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 Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

If you're searching for some good news following the Eagles' dismal 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon, here it is. 

Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Ryan Mathews (knee) are going to return to practice this week, head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. 

Ryan Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. The Eagles averaged just 77 yards rushing in those two losses, going with Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. 

Jordan Matthews, who has been the Eagles' best and most consistent receiver this season, suffered an ankle sprain against the Packers and was inactive on Sunday against the Bengals. It was the first game he ever missed in college or in the NFL. 

Wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, who injured his midsection and got X-rays during the game, has an oblique contusion, according to Pederson. Green-Beckham is sore and will be held from practice on Wednesday, but Pederson expects him to be "OK" for the Washington game on Sunday. 

Pederson said right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is "coming along," but isn't yet ready to return. 

"He's going to do a little more this week, not from a practice standpoint but from a rehab standpoint, and he's doing good," Pederson said. "But we'll see where he is again later in the week."

In Vaitai's absence, left guard Allen Barbre has shifted from left guard to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski has replaced him at left guard. 

Doug Pederson admits 'not everybody' played hard in Eagles' loss

Doug Pederson admits 'not everybody' played hard in Eagles' loss

Doug Pederson’s press conference was humming along as expected on Monday morning, the day after the team’s 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati. 

Like he did minutes after the game, Pederson again expressed the idea that the Eagles didn’t lose for lack of effort. 

“I didn’t see any quit in the guys,” he said several different ways throughout the 19-minute session with reporters. 

The effort’s there. There’s no quit. 

Those are the types of responses we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Pederson over the last couple of weeks after embarrassing losses. And it looked like that was how Monday was going to end, with that same message being repeated ad nauseum. 

Until Pederson made a shocking admission. 

Could he honestly say every one of his players played hard against Cincinnati?

“Not everybody,” he said. “Not everybody, and that's the accountability that I talk about. You know, I hold coaches accountable for that. I hold myself accountable for that because it all starts with me and I pride myself each week to make sure the guys are ready to go. 
 
“But at the same time, it comes down to a mentality by each individual player. You know, this is a business where we have to be ready to go every single weekend because every team in the league -- I mean, there's some teams that are better than others, obviously -- but for the most part, anything can happen each weekend.”
 
Not everybody. The admission of that fact is far more shocking than the reality. Fans who watched Sunday’s game will probably be able to pinpoint several plays where one or more Eagles might not have given full effort. 
 
But for a first-year head coach to come out and admit it in public is rare. Perhaps Pederson felt emboldened to say something because he’s been assured of his status within the organization (see story). On Monday, he said he “for sure” thinks his job is secure after this season based on reassurance from Jeff Lurie and Howie Roseman. 
 
While Pederson said it publicly, the conversation between him and his players about accountability will continue. It seems unlikely Pederson will take it a step further by cutting or benching players, but his team will definitely hear the message its head coach put out on Monday. 
 
While Pederson commented that “not everybody” played hard, it seems like he’s convinced that portion of the team is the minority. Overall, he’s still convinced that guys are buying in. The reason he gave was the feedback he’s been getting back from his leadership council (a group of veteran leaders he has depended on throughout the season). 
 
Earlier in the press conference, Pederson was asked about one play in particular, when Zach Ertz failed to block Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict as Carson Wentz scrambled for a 10-yard gain in the first quarter. The video shows Ertz making an effort to avoid the linebacker.
 
“Looking at the tape and watching where Carson was scrambling of course he was heading toward out of bounds and I think he just pulled off at that point,” Pederson said. “That’s all I can say. But I’m definitely going to ask him why.”

With a 5-7 record, the Eagles’ playoff chances are all but completely gone, so the last quarter of the season will be about effort, pride and finding out who wants to be back on the team in 2017. 

To end his press conference, Pederson was asked if this Eagles team needs to be “loved up” or if it’s time for some tough love.  

“I think it's both. I think it's both,” he said. “I think there's a level of that tough love. There's got to be that accountability that I was talking about. You know, I implore and I challenge the leaders of the football team to stand up and really not only hold themselves [accountable] but the rest of the team. Listen, it's not a panic move or anything like that, but just, ‘Hey, let's just make sure we're doing things right.’ Everybody just do things right, do their jobs, do their assignments, you know, and good things are going to happen. 

“Obviously, again, it starts with me, and I've got to make sure that I'm doing it right and I'm holding myself accountable, and as you mentioned earlier with Jeffrey and Howie, if they're holding me accountable and all that, that's where it starts, and then I relay that message to the assistants and on to the team.”