Philadelphia Eagles

Jenkins aims to end Eagles' carousel at safety

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Jenkins aims to end Eagles' carousel at safety

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.”

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

It's hard not to wonder: With Jalen Mills on the brink of establishing himself as a true No. 1 cornerback and rookie Rasul Douglas shining in his first two NFL starts, what happens when Ronald Darby gets back? And what happens when Sidney Jones gets back?

Answer? Who cares!

All I know is that after a decade of watching recycled, over-priced, disinterested veterans like Ellis Hobbs, Nnamdi Asomugha, Byron Maxwell, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll, Cary Williams and Leodis McKelvin, it sure is encouraging to see the Eagles stockpile promising, young largely home-grown cornerbacks.

Soon after last year ended, Howie Roseman vowed to finally stop trying to solve the Eagles' cornerback problems with what he called "Band-Aids."

"What we’ve done at the cornerback position is put Band-Aids on things," he said.

And then Roseman and Joe Douglas went and did something about it.

The Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas in the second and third rounds, then traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby, and with Mills returning for a second season, all of a sudden the Eagles found themselves with four promising cornerbacks 23 or younger, something unprecedented in franchise history.

The thinking was that the Eagles would be patient and take their lumps waiting for these raw, young corners to develop into legit NFL starters instead of riding the free agent veteran carousel year after year.

And that's where their plan went awry. Because Mills and Douglas are both playing at a high level, and that long-term plan seems to be way ahead of schedule.

It sure looks like for the first time since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown first became starters 15 years ago, the Eagles have capable cornerbacks they can grow with.

Mills has come so far. He now has the technique to match his confidence. He had Terrelle Pryor most of opening day, and Pryor finished with six catches for 66 yards. Last week in Kansas City, he tracked explosive Tyreek Hill most of the game, and Hill caught four passes for 43 yards with a long gain of 18 yards. Mills drew one of the league's best Sunday — Odell Beckham Jr. — and although he caught seven passes, none went longer than 14 yards. 

Douglas, inactive on opening day, has been shockingly good in his two starts. He's proven to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical corner who makes up for average speed with very good technique, and he's as sure a tackler as the Eagles have had at corner since Brown.

How can you not be excited about these two?

The Eagles were without four defensive backs Sunday — Darby, Jaylen Watkins, Rodney McCloud and Corey Graham (five if you include Jones) — and they still beat a healthy division opponent with a Hall of Fame quarterback who threw 47 times and went after Mills and Douglas snap after snap.

I don't care what Manning's stats say, Mills and Douglas have both given the Eagles distinguished cornerback play the last two weeks, and now remind yourself that Mills just turned 23 in April, and Douglas doesn't turn 23 until next summer.

Which brings us to the future.

Jones, a projected first-round pick before his Achilles injury, has the glossiest résumé of any of these guys. He doesn't turn 22 until May. And Darby, who the Eagles liked enough to part with Matthews and a third-round pick, doesn't turn 24 until soon after the season ends.

Now maybe if the Eagles knew what they had in Douglas, they never would have made the Darby trade. But it doesn't matter at this point.

What's important is the Eagles have stocked the cornerback position with enough young talent that they should be in good shape for the foreseeable future. It's tough to find talented young cornerbacks, and the Eagles seem to have found a bunch of them.

And maybe it seems like they have too many. What do you do with all these guys?!?!?! But if you've lived through Asomugha and Maxwell and Fletcher and all the other guys the Eagles have paraded through the Linc over the last decade you're never going to worry about having too many young corners.

So what do the Eagles do when guys start coming back? And remember, even 30-year-old Patrick Robinson has been way better than expected in the slot.

We know Mills will play somewhere. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could start Darby and Douglas and use Mills in the slot. Or he could keep Robinson in the slot with Mills and Douglas outside, leaving Darby as the fourth corner. He could go with Darby and Mills outside and Douglas in the slot.

And when Jones enters the picture? Jones and Mills outside with Douglas in the slot? Darby and Jones outside with Mills in the slot and Douglas at safety?

There are a million different ways to go, but all that stuff will sort itself out.

Really, all that's important now is that the Eagles have a stable of young corners to grow with. And not a Band-Aid in sight.

Jake Elliott's photo after unforgettable finish a major breath of fresh air

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Jake Elliott's photo after unforgettable finish a major breath of fresh air

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

The saying is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard, but there is some debate who coined the phrase. We’ll let historians debate the origin. Fast-forward some 90-odd years later to a hot Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia and the visual of Jake Elliott triumphantly being carried off the field on the shoulders of Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill.

It was a fitting close to a crazy game. Elliott had just buried the longest field goal in franchise history. The sixth-longest ever in the NFL. Sixty-one yards of pure bliss for Eagles fans. All courtesy of a player who was not even on the team two weeks ago. A guy most had never heard of prior to that, including his now teammates, being given the ultimate escort. A kicker nonetheless. The still photo now serves a screen saver or backdrop for countless Eagles fans. A reminder of yet another wild finish between these two old rivals. But the image also represents something much deeper.

Sunday was dominated by images of the sidelines during the national anthem, as players responded to the President Trump's comments. The Eagles, along with their owner, Jeffrey Lurie, stood arms locked along with Philadelphia police during the national anthem. Others around the league sat or kneeled. Some teams never came out of the locker room. Some went the traditional route of standing with their hand over their heart to honor our flag. But unlike Colin Kaepernick’s protests last year or Malcolm Jenkins' clenched fist, this was a much broader protest being made by NFL players.

That this a complex, polarizing issue, no one will argue. The overriding message or theme from the players who took part in the demonstrations was it was done in response to the president’s cry Friday that NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” should say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” The protests were also done to raise awareness of the racial inequalities in our country. There are those who find any action other than standing at attention for the anthem to be disrespectful to our country regardless of the reasoning behind it.

Sports has long been the cocoon that allows fans to escape "real world" problems. Attend or turn on a game and you could get a two-three hour respite from work or politics or family issues. Those days are gone. The two worlds have collided, and, like it or not, there is no untangling the two forces.

But there was something about the shot of Elliott, a white man being carried off the field by two African-American men. There was no division, race or class or otherwise. It was unbridled joy by three human beings from differing backgrounds. They put color and beliefs — and politics — to the side and celebrated a unique accomplishment. And that is what is still beautiful about sports. Pollyanna perhaps. But individuals of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds working together for a greater good.

Kind of the way it’s supposed to be in that "real world." Picture that.