Kelly: Jenkins has been 'outstanding'
Malcolm Jenkins, who was drafted 14th overall by the Saints in 2009, signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Eagles this offseason. (AP)
"He's making me a better player. I meet with him every morning at 7:30 in the morning before everybody gets here. I work out with him in the weight room. His work ethic is crazy."
- Earl Wolff on veteran Malcolm Jenkins
Earl Wolff likes to arrive early at the NovaCare Complex during the Eagles’ offseason program and OTAs. That way, he can get in some early film review and extra time in the weight room.
But not by himself. Because when Wolff walks through the doors of team headquarters, Malcolm Jenkins is usually already there, for the exact same reasons.
“He’s making me a better player,” Wolff said. “I meet with him every morning at 7:30 in the morning before everybody gets here. I work out with him in the weight room. His work ethic is crazy. He deserves everything he has. I just met the guy. I just think he can elevate my game as well as elevate the guys around him.”
It’s becoming clear fairly quickly why the Eagles targeted Jenkins in free agency despite some splashier names on the market.
And it’s easier to see why Chip Kelly on Thursday practically bent over backwards to sing the praises of his new safety, who had all of two OTA practices under his belt.
“He's been outstanding,” Kelly said. “I think he's an extremely intelligent football player and that obviously showed just from the first day we got a chance to get on the field with them.”
Jenkins, a self-described natural leader, is already carrying out the duties Kelly spoke about in March, when the coach cited the importance of a quarterback in the defensive backfield to help cure a defense that surrendered the NFL’s most passing yards.
Jenkins is asserting his leadership and knowledge where he can, helping those around him -- especially young prospects like Wolff -- understand the game from a variety of levels. In his short time here, he’s already become a guiding light for Wolff, who’s battling Nate Allen for the other starting safety job (see story).
When they pore over film each morning, Jenkins opens Wolff’s eyes to parts of the game Wolff couldn’t see.
“Little thing things, man,” Wolff said. “Stuff that sometimes the coach doesn’t bring up in the meeting. For example [Thursday], we were in Cover 3, I was the middle safety. He said, ‘Earl, every time the quarterback stares you down he’s throwing it at the X (receiver). Every single time.’ And I noticed it as I went on. It’s just those little things. He tells me something like that every day, gives me a tip. So it’s a blessing to have him here, a blessing to have him on this team.”
Jenkins, chosen 14th overall by the Saints in 2009, never made a Pro Bowl in New Orleans and has just six career interceptions, but Kelly was looking beyond the numbers when he bypassed lavishing big money on Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, two former Oregon safeties who were each Pro Bowlers, to bring in the unheralded Jenkins.
Jenkins signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal, a pittance compared to the six-year, $56 contract Byrd netted from the Saints.
The Saints had Jenkins as defensive team captain the past two seasons. In 2012, Jenkins’ alma mater, Ohio State, presented him with the Jesse Owens influential athlete award, given to an African-American alumnus “who exemplifies great character and talent, demonstrates exceptional professional success and continues to reflect the highest qualities of a consummate athlete and humanitarian.”
Kelly, who places high emphasis on football IQ, felt Jenkins provided the intangibles that the back end of his defense badly needed.
Jenkins is very willing to play the role, but he also understands that he’s the new guy in the locker room. He needs to set the example before he can start asserting his leadership in all areas of the team.
“You’ve got to pick your spots,” he said. “You can’t come in trying to bark orders, because you have no grounds for people to listen to you. So you really come in and go about your work and let guys see who you are, what your personality is.
“But at the same time you can’t be shy, either. Really, it’s been just feeling my way around, trying to lead by example and go from there. If that emerges, for me to be leader, than I’m more than willing, but this team already has great leadership and some good guys. Right now, early on, I’m just playing my role.”
And that’s enough to help make a difference for Wolff.
“Earl, he’s been trying to learn just kind of how I see the game and some of the things that I’ve learned over the years,” Jenkins added. “So he’s been sitting with me, he’ll go over my notes. I’ll tell him when I see things.
“He’s a young guy that’s really trying to get better. He’s really thirsty for knowledge and trying to understand the game better. He didn’t really play the true post safety in college; he was really an in-the-box type of guy. So when they asked him to play deep and play man-to-man there’s a lot things he hadn’t learned before. I’m interested to see how much he can take it and then translate onto the field.”