When Jenkins suggests change, Eagles' coaches listen

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When Jenkins suggests change, Eagles' coaches listen

A few things happened soon after Malcolm Jenkins signed with the Eagles as a free agent on March 11.

He buried himself in the intricacies of Billy Davis’ defense. He pored over hours of film. He picked the brains of his new teammates. He met endlessly with his coaches. He learned all he could and then he learned some more.

And once he had a pretty good idea what was going on, he did an interesting thing.

He started making suggestions on what to change.

Before he played a single snap in an Eagles uniform, Jenkins began offering ideas and tweaks to his coaches. Little things that he believed could make Davis’ scheme even better.

“I think he's done a great job with our staff of asking a lot of interesting questions in terms of, ‘Hey, maybe we can fit it this way,’ as opposed to the way we are fitting it,” head coach Chip Kelly said.

Jenkins, a native of Piscataway, New Jersey, spent his first five years with the Saints, winning a Super Bowl ring as a rookie in 2009.

Along with five years of experience, a Super Bowl ring and a quick mastery of a new defense comes respect from the coaching staff.

And Jenkins learned very quickly that the suggestions he was making were actually being heard.

“That is rare,” Jenkins said. “That makes me feel like it’s partly my defense, and every player should feel the same way, because everybody has a voice.

“There’s open dialogue. If they don’t take your suggestion, they’ll give you a reason why, and that way it’s not just a dictatorship, but you understand the defense a little better and you feel like it’s partly yours, and when everybody feels like they have a hand in it, people buy in more, guys know the ins and outs, and it just makes us that much more dynamic.”

Jenkins is the new guy – the only projected starter on defense who wasn’t with the Eagles last year. But he’s been accepted and embraced very quickly by his coaches and his teammates.

“I think he's really fit in, maybe better than anybody on our staff thought he was going to fit in, just because we were not familiar with him,” Kelly said. “But he's a football player and he adds a lot of stability to the back end out there.

“He's really done a great job of stepping in at that other safety spot opposite Nate [Allen] and being real decisive in terms of what he's doing. He's been a great leader in the locker room and meeting rooms, has a really, really good football knowledge.”

Really, really good football knowledge that his coaches aren’t too stubborn to consider.

Jenkins said it’s big when coaches listen to their players instead of just running their scheme and shrugging off the opinions of the guys who are actually out there playing.

“It’s huge,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been around a lot of prideful coaches that don’t want to hear anything, so it’s a huge hats off to them, because that helps players really get into it. We feel like we’re all in this together, and you love playing for coaches like that.

“I’ve been around both. I’ve been around a few coaches, like [Saints defensive coordinator] Rob Ryan last year, he was one of those guys, whatever you had to say, he’d listen. If you were a veteran. He wouldn’t listen to rookies. But if you’d been around the block, he’d listen.

“But I’ve been on other teams where the coaches don’t want to hear it. This is the way they’ve done it for however many years, and they don’t want to change anything.”

And that gets frustrating.

“Especially when it’s not working,” Jenkins said. “It does. Because as a veteran, we’re the ones playing it. It’s not Madden, where you can set your play and control players. We’re the ones that have to actually execute what the book tells us.

“And sometimes you get coach-talk, where they’ll write it up on paper but it doesn’t really work too well in execution. And to have coaches that will listen to that and change your technique or tweak something in the defense to kind of help you out as players, that’s huge.”

Kirk Cousins still cautious of Eagles' defense despite recent struggles

Kirk Cousins still cautious of Eagles' defense despite recent struggles

As Kirk Cousins and the rest of his Washington teammates sit down to watch film to prepare for their second matchup against the Eagles this season, it’ll probably be a very different experience than the last time. 
 
Heading into that Week 6 matchup, the Eagles were widely considered to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Jim Schwartz’s unit had given up just 12.8 points per game through its first four weeks. 
 
In the eight games since, that number jumped to 24.4 points allowed per game. 
 
So what happened? 
 
“I don’t know,” Cousins said on a conference call with Philadelphia reporters Wednesday. 
 
“I still see a talented defense and the same players who I know are capable of making some impressive plays over and over. All of us in the NFL have moments where we’re up and down and may stub our toe from one week to the next, but it doesn’t really mean that they’re not a stout defense that’s going to be a challenge. I feel like we’ve got our hands full with these guys this week.”
 
Washington didn’t have its hands full in the last matchup. In fact, the Eagles gave up 493 total yards and 230 rushing yards – both season highs – to Washington in the first meeting on Oct. 16. 
 
On Tuesday, when discussing the recent play of the defense, Schwartz said he thought his unit was one of the best in the league through nine games, but is in a three-game slump (see story).
 
What does Washington coach Jay Gruden think happened? 
 
“We’ve kind of gone through a little bit of the same thing,” said Gruden, whose team has lost two in a row. “They’ve been close. They just haven’t made some of the plays they made earlier in the year and offenses are making the plays. And we’re the same way on defense. We haven’t changed a whole lot personnel-wise; we’re still doing some good things, but it’s just third-down plays and chances to get off the field and turnovers, we’re just not doing a good job with that. 
 
“I think the Eagles are probably in the same boat. They still have good players and a good scheme, it just comes down to making plays. And for whatever reason, the offense is making more plays than the defense and that’s our case also.”

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Talk about too, little too late.
 
Lane Johnson is due back in two weeks, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday for the first time seemed to indicate that he’s leaning toward getting Johnson back at right tackle as soon as he returns.
 
Johnson, the Eagles’ best offensive lineman the first month of the season, was suspended by the NFL for 10 games for a second positive test for a banned substance. By the time his appeal was heard and rejected, it was after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions.
 
Johnson hasn’t played since.

The Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc and Ravens in Baltimore the next two Sundays. Johnson is eligible to return to the NovaCare Complex the day after the Ravens' game, which would be Monday, Dec. 19.
 
The Eagles then face the Giants three days later on a Thursday night at the Linc and finish the season on Jan. 1 at home against the Cowboys in a game that will likely have no meaning for either team.
 
Previously, when asked about Johnson, Pederson was non-commital about playing him. But on Wednesday, he seemed to indicate he would move him back to right tackle for the Giants' game.
 
“Listen, he was a big part of our success early in the season,” Pederson said. “So I wouldn’t hesitate to put him back out there.”
 
The Eagles, 5-7 after a 3-0 start, are on the brink of playoff elimination and could well be eliminated by the time Johnson returns.
 
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the first six games after Johnson’s suspension before getting hurt. Left guard Allen Barbre started the last two, with Stefen Wisniewski moving into left guard.
 
Even though Pederson indicated Johnson would return to right tackle as soon as he gets back, he did qualify the statement.
 
“He comes back on a short week, too, against the Giants, in a couple weeks,” he said. “Got to see where Big V is at coming off an injury and see where that’s at. 
 
“We’re beginning the conversations right now. When he does return, we’ll have to see. We still have some games. Have to get through these two games.”         
 
Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, missing only four in 2014 during his first NFL suspension.
 
After the Lions game, he said he hoped the Eagles had meaningful games remaining when he got back.
 
The Eagles are 3-1 this year with Johnson and 2-6 without him. In his four NFL seasons, the Eagles are 27-22 when he plays.
 
“Stay in shape and hopefully the team is good enough to stay in playoff contention,” he said in the visiting locker room at Ford Field back on Oct. 9. 
 
“Come back and I’ll be fresh and we can make a run for it. That’s the best-case scenario. We’ll see what happens.”