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.”

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

Pro athletes react to Donald Trump's inauguration

A look at some of the reaction around the sports world as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday:

Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito on Twitter
"Today is the first day on the road to Making America Great Again #Inauguration2017"

Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green on Twitter
"Hope these 4 years fly by ? #TimeToPray"

Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Huston Street on Twitter
"Today we start a new chapter, let's work together, and remember only saying negative without an idea is creating divide, it does not help US"

Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee on Twitter
"Inauguration Day.. Some folks happier than they've ever been.. some folks madder than they've ever been.. what a time to be alive"

Former USWNT soccer player Lauren Holiday , to her infant daughter, on Instagram
"I may not be the president, baby but I'll promise to be your Mom. I'll teach you that your brown skin is beautiful. I'll show you that being a girl and a woman is a privilege. How being incredibly powerful means serving those around you and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will tell you about Jesus and how he taught us to love unconditionally. We will have many talks about equality and I will always encourage generosity. One day if you ask me what you can be, I will smile and say absolutely anything. I'll tell you whatever it is you choose, be kind. I'll fight for you, I'll cheer for you and I'll love you along the way. But most of all, I'll make sure you're hopeful. So today, baby, I'll choose hope."

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum on Twitter
"Appreciate you Mr. 44"

Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha on Twitter
"The only President my 2 daughters have known. Feels strange going from them to the new guy. Thanks for the class act Barack and Michelle !"

Former Texas and NFL receiver Jordan Shipley on Twitter
"Heard God's word in the inauguration speech. I care about our country being under God a lot more than I care about politics or parties."

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul on Twitter
"Thank You!!! #44"

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady when asked on Friday if he called Trump to congratulate him.
"Let's talk about football."