One point Malcolm Jenkins emphasized Wednesday in his introductory press conference at the NovaCare Complex: No, he won’t be conjuring images of Brian Dawkins.
You won’t be seeing Jenkins, the newest Eagles safety, storming around the edge with the quarterback in his crosshairs or high-flying through mid-air to bring down a ball carrier like the iconic former Eagles safety did.
“Me and Brian Dawkins are a lot different in styles,” Jenkins acknowledged. “But what fans want is that playmaking safety, whether that be from big hits or interceptions or whatever. You just want that safety that can take control and be a leader and make plays. And that’s what I plan to do.”
After signing a three-year deal in free agency Tuesday, Jenkins instantly became the team’s most notable safety since Dawkins fled (begrudgingly) after the 2008 season. He’s expected to stabilize a position that’s lacked consistency -- actually, a position that’s platooned one disaster after another -- since Quintin Mikell left in 2010.
Jenkins, whose career started at corner, branded himself the archetype safety for today’s pass-heavy game. Someone with the coverage skills to man the outsides and instincts to direct traffic from behind the defense. Someone who embraces his role on special teams. Someone who’s always emerged as his team’s leader.
Someone, he added, who fits Chip Kelly’s preference for esteemed character, high football IQ and the ability to be multidimensional.
“I’m a football junkie, so I can be the quarterback of the defense,” he said. “I can still cover receivers in the slot. I can cover tight ends. I can blitz. Whenever I can do all of those things, I have the freedom to move around and not be stagnant. That’s when I’ve had my best years.
“I’m not your typical safety. I’m just kind of this hybrid that the league is moving toward now, with bigger tight ends and faster tight ends. You need guys that can be versatile. You can go down into the slot and you’re not worried about them on receivers.”
Jenkins, the 14th pick of the 2009 draft by New Orleans, felt his 2013 season with the Saints represented a return to original form. The Saints allowed him to roam around the defense again after he mainly patrolled deep in 2011 and ’12. This past season, he set a career high with 2.5 sacks, picked off two passes after having just one in the prior two years and he forced two fumbles while serving as team captain for the second straight season.
The Saints decided to let him go and shifted their funds to Jairus Byrd, an open-field playmaker who cost them $54 million over six years, but Jenkins said the Eagles prioritized him very quickly in free agency (see story).
One assurance he needed before agreeing to hop aboard Kelly’s express is that he’d be a moveable part in coordinator Billy Davis’ defense.
Turns out, this issue wasn’t negotiable.
“They communicated to me that that’s what they want me to do,” he said. “That’s right up my alley.”
Jenkins isn’t blind to the reputation he’s cultivated for coming up empty-handed on tackles. Pro Football Focus, which tracks missed tackles, counted 18 last year for Jenkins, tied for fifth-most in the league. (It should be noted that Mike Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25-million deal with the Steelers tied for first).
Jenkins admitted his tackling needs improvement but said he’s “made a bunch of plays in my career, game-changing plays.”
“If you were to ask me what’s my biggest thing I need to improve on, I would say tackling,” he said, “and I think that’s only happened over the last couple of seasons. I think that had something to do with the change of scheme and change of positions I was in, but I don’t see a problem going forward.”
So what happened in ’11 and ‘12 that reduced a second-team All-Pro safety in 2010 into an expendable afterthought with a reputation for fleeting fundamentals?
Jenkins pointed to his shift from corner to an exclusive free safety whose full talents weren’t capitalized. In 2010, his second season and first at safety, Jenkins slid inside on nickel downs with Darren Sharper coming in to play alongside Roman Harper at safety.
When Sharper retired before the 2011 season, Jenkins exclusively manned the post and then observed his drop-off in impact. Not much action 20 yards away from scrimmage, which isn’t a role that suited him best.
“That’s not where I’m most comfortable,” he said. “I can’t blame that and say that’s why I missed tackles. That’s not what I’m saying, but the years in which I was put in position to make plays, I made them. And I’m really looking forward to having that opportunity here, looking forward to coaches wanting to put me in those positions and realizing that.”
Jenkins spared folks the rhetoric about feeling slighted by the Saints and the boatload of cash they tossed at his replacement. He said he didn’t feel motivated to atone for perceptions that he hasn’t fulfilled expectations of being a 14th overall pick.
“The one thing about the draft is, I didn’t make them draft me at that point,” he said. “That’s just where I fell. 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 that would say different.”
Jenkins insisted that if he’s not in conversations about the league’s best safeties, he’s “working to get there.”
He won’t inspire teammates with Dawkins-caliber theatrics or pep talks, but Jenkins said there’s a reason he was twice captain of the Saints, along with being a team captain at Ohio State and throughout his high school career.
There’s a reason he owns a Super Bowl ring, played for two national championships in college and played on three straight championship teams in high school.
“I’m kind of a natural born leader,” he said. “I’ve been a captain on every team I’ve ever played on. I try to lead by example first and I think that’s why people gravitate toward me as a leader. Because they see the work I put in. They see the extra hours and the detail I put into my work and I take it very serious. I just plan on doing what I normally do and if that turns into me standing out as leader, that will play out.”