"I knew I'd have to start over and build things back up, both mentally and physically," Kindle said.
A long road
"The perfect storm was that he had to overcome an off-field injury and he had to learn how to be a pro at the same time," said Estes, who speaks regularly with Kindle. "I think that learning curve was more difficult than he thought it was going to be. But he's coming out of the other side of this right now and that experience and humility is paying off."
Walker, who lived with Kindle during last season but has since moved back to Dallas, started noticing signs of a potential breakthrough late last year. There were suddenly more smiles and laughs when he picked up Kindle following Ravens' practices.
Walker agreed to start going to the gym regularly after Kindle noticed his brother was always out of breath while climbing up the stairs to their fourth-floor Owings Mills apartment. And Kindle slowly but surely started letting go of his frustrations.
"Even if I'm irritated with him, he's persistent and eventually he'll get out of me what the issue is," Kindle said. "He doesn't have the best words, he doesn't have the magic words, but he keeps trying and trying. Holding things in isn't good for you. When you release them, it eases pressure and stress."
Kindle, whose license was suspended following his December 2010 DUI arrest, initially thought nothing of asking Walker to drive him to a bar or club. Walker mostly refused, reminding Kindle that he needed to focus on his job and providing for his 6-year-old son, Sergio Jr. or "Little Serge." Eventually, those requests from Kindle stopped altogether in favor of nights spent hunched over the playbook.
"Before the [head] injury, he was not necessarily a party animal but he liked to hang out with friends," Walker said. "But I think after the injury and the trouble off the field, he realized that what he was doing wasn't working for him and he had to change. He's created a different image for himself, and so far, it's working. He started reading the Bible and he's studying the playbook a lot more."
Walker knew that Kindle had gotten serious when he asked him to buy a dry erase board so Kindle could script and study different formations. He then got more proof when he entered Kindle's room in their Dallas-area apartment this past offseason and found "four or five" Ravens' pads filled with notes and diagrams.
"My comfort level is a whole lot higher than it was just because I'm starting to get the playbook now," Kindle said. "If you don't have the playbook down, you're not going to play."
When Ravens coaches are asked about the progress Kindle has made, they'll fixate more on his mental approach and his knowledge of the defense than anything he's doing physically.
"He's made a quantum leap in terms of his mental approach to practice and film study and simply to just being a pro," said Ravens linebacker coach Ted Monachino.
As much progress as he made, Kindle, who has lined up with the first-team defense during training camp because of injuries to Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw, still has challenges to overcome.
"I think the biggest thing is the hearing," Estes said. "I don't know if he's adjusted to that."
Kindle said he only hears "muffled" noise in his left ear. When he is in a conversation, he shifts his body so that his right ear is pointed toward the person he is communicating with. On the field, Ravens' linebackers and safeties know to get close to Kindle so he can hear the calls, or they use hand signals.
"The best thing with Sergio is that right now he is really aware of what we're doing," Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain said. "As far as communication goes with him, it's easy, like it is with everybody. I know I sometimes have to communicate directly to him, but I also have to communicate with everyone else. Sergio is more in tune with our scheme and his assignments now, and like anybody, you get more in tune with age and understanding."
The Ravens are seeking to make things even easier for Kindle and have discussed outfitting him with a helmet equipped with a microphone so he could better hear the calls and the coaches. The Ravens would have to get league approval and right now, according to a team spokesman, things are still in the experimental stage.
Kindle, meanwhile, is focused on giving back to the Ravens, and justifying their investment. They could have opted not to sign him to a rookie deal following his accident, knowing he may never be healthy enough to play a single snap in the NFL. They could have released him after his DUI. They could have let him go last year when Kindle was an afterthought on game days.
Instead, John Harbaugh spoke in March about giving Kindle an opportunity to complete what the Ravens head coach called "an unparalleled accomplishment," a comeback from such a serious head and nerve injury and the uncertainty, inactivity and silence that followed.
"The biggest lesson that I have learned is this opportunity isn't given to everybody," Kindle said. "With my incident and the whole nine, that could have ended it right there. The team didn't have to bring me back but it's a great organization and they did. They gave me a shot and my goal is to make it worth while."
Asked if he can still be the player that Chykie Brown remembers, the one that the Ravens drafted and envisioned developing into an impact pass rusher, Kindle said, "Of course I can. The work that I put in is going to make that happen."
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