New Eagle Jenkins shows he can cover

Posted: March 14, 2014

MALCOLM JENKINS is sold on Philadelphia, even if Philadelphia isn't totally sold on him.

"I see the vision and the direction that Chip has got this team going in, and I'm about winning. I know the fan base here is a passionate fan base, and I'm a passionate player . . . The Eagles are obviously the best fit for me and where my career is going at this point," Jenkins told a NovaCare news conference last night. "I'm looking forward to just getting a fresh start here in Philly."

Jenkins, signed for 3 years and $15.5 million, which could be $16.25 million with incentives, isn't Jairus Byrd, or Darrelle Revis, the defensive-backfield names who would have generated so very much more March excitement. But winning in the NFL is rarely about generating March excitement.

Jenkins, 26, outlined why he thinks he fits what the Eagles are doing, and vice versa. It would have been nice to have general manager Howie Roseman and/or Eagles coach Chip Kelly chime in, to explain not pursuing Byrd, the top safety available, who signed with New Orleans Monday as Jenkins' replacement, or Revis, a dominant corner who last night reportedly agreed to a 1-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots.

As free agency approached, Roseman talked of building a young team the right way, from the ground up, being very careful about additions, not trying to graft in stars from other organizations to lead. He talked about putting the payroll emphasis on paying your own players, something the Eagles did recently with Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. Kelly hasn't said much about anything; though the coach returned from Alabama's pro day before Jenkins met with reporters, and was sighted in a NovaCare hallway, he didn't care to do any explaining.

Jenkins did a decent job on their behalf, though, facing the cameras confidently in a maroon sport coat and black bow tie. He said the Eagles contacted his agent early in the process, were the only team he spoke with seriously.

Jenkins called himself "a natural-born leader," and said he'd been "a captain on every team I've ever played on," including the past two seasons with the Saints.

The fact that the Saints didn't try to keep him, then guaranteed Byrd an extraordinary $28 million in a 6-year, $56 million contract "doesn't hurt my confidence or put any doubt in my belief," said Jenkins, a 6-foot, 200-pound former 14th overall pick (2009) from Ohio State.

Does he come here with something to prove?

"No, I think I just come trying to win. I come trying to be the best safety I can be . . . I really come here expecting to get better and to have success, because I see the way the team's filling out, and I see the coaching staff and their vision for me, and I definitely want to take hold of that and excel here," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said Kelly "knows how to win. He knows what he's going to win with. And they're trying to get players that fit his scheme; not necessarily the best players, but players that'll buy into what he's selling. I've been a part of winning teams before, and that's where it starts. It starts with good leadership, from the top down."

Kelly talked about Jenkins' versatility in the statement released after the signing.

"I was drafted as a corner, played corner my rookie year, so now I'm one of those guys where I can play deep, I'm a football junkie, so I can be the quarterback of the defense, I can still cover receivers in the slot, can cover tight ends. I can blitz. Whenever I can do all those things, have the freedom to move around and not be stagnant, that's when I have my best years," Jenkins said. His best season in New Orleans, 2010, was the year he filled that type of role, alongside Darren Sharper. Jenkins said he played free safety that year on first and second down, nickel on third down.

He said being a deep safety "all day kind of makes me uncomfortable, and that's not where I'm best suited."

"I'm not your typical safety, I'm just kind of that hybrid that the league is moving to now, with the bigger tight ends, faster tight ends. You need guys that can be versatile, go down in the slot . . . That was one of the big questions. I wanted to know how they were going to use me."

There are two main criticisms of Jenkins. One is that he has been inconsistent, flashing the talent that made him a first-round pick but not playing at that level all the time. The other is that he misses tackles.

"I can't really tell you that," he said, when asked about the tackling problem. "I've made a bunch of plays in my career, game-changing plays. I think everybody has something they need to improve on. If you were to ask me what were my biggest things I needed to improve on, I would say tackling. And I think that's only happened over the last couple of seasons. I think that has something to do with a little change of scheme and change of positions I was in. I don't see that being a problem going forward."

Asked a follow-up question, Jenkins said he didn't want to say playing at free safety all the time the past few years made him miss tackles, "but the years in which I was put in the position to make plays, I made 'em, and I'm really looking forward to having that opportunity here. I'm looking forward to coaches that want to put me in those positions."

The other issue, about living up to expectations, "depends on who you're asking. If you ask me, I think so," Jenkins said. "I didn't make them draft me at that point; that's just where I fell. But I think so. I think what I brought to the Saints and what I meant to that team was worth it, and I don't think you can get anybody who was with that organization to say different."

Jenkins suggested that it isn't too late to erase any doubts about the kind of player he is.

"So now I'm looking forward to the second contract and really making a splash," said Jenkins, who will only be 29 when this contract ends. "My goal always is to be the best in the NFL. If I'm not in that conversation right now, I'm working every day to get there."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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