What Kris Jenkins did to Chris Myers on the afternoon of September 13th would be considered downright illegal in most places. But the violent head slap administered by the Jets nose tackle, lightening quick and immediately followed with a devastating bull rush, occurred within white lines, and instead of an assault and battery victim, Myers became fodder for a particularly memorable early season highlight. Such is the National Football League, where efficient modes of viciousness are interpreted as technique, and the subtle art of one man absolutely bowling over another is practiced daily.
Kris Jenkins’ method at that instant was reminiscent of Reggie White, the late, great Defensive End who thoroughly dominated the nineties. This unique talent has earned Jenkins millions, and made him an integral part of the rising Jets’ defense.
After an impressive tenure with the University of Maryland, Jenkins was drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers. In 2001, his rookie year, the franchise sunk to a subterranean level, chalking up a win opening week before dropping fifteen straight en route to the worst record in the sport. Carolina would reverse their fortunes with incredible quickness, reaching the Super Bowl in 2003 under John Fox. Jenkins had a major hand in the proceedings, becoming a household name, the staple of a ferocious defensive line.
The stat sheet confirmed Jenkins’ immense impact. He made Pro Bowl appearances in consecutive seasons, even became the first player to block an extra point that would have decided a game in regulation. [The Panthers won this contest, against Tampa Bay, in overtime. You don’t lose after that…]
Jenkins’ ascension to superstardom was interrupted by a dispiriting string of injuries. When the Jets offered two draft picks for his services following the 2007 campaign, the Panthers acquiesced, cutting ties with a vital piece of their NFC Championship team.
The Jets’ were worried enough about excessive size hampering Jenkins’ health to insert weight clauses into his new contract. Converted to nose tackle within Eric Mangini’s defensive scheme, Jenkins was healthy and productive before noticeably wearing down late in the season. His performance defined the whole unit. When Jenkins excelled, the run defense was stout, and a depthless secondary sufficiently supported. When he struggled, the fortunes of the entire defense submarined. And If wily head coaches like Mike Shanahan could implement schemes completely nullifying Jenkins, the results were downright disastrous for New York.
In 2009, Jenkins has way more support. And yet, with the revelation today that valuable corners Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland will be absent for this Sunday’s highly anticipated matchup with the New Orleans, the burden on Jenkins is once again a very heavy weight.
“This is definitely one of the best,” said Jenkins after practice today, when asked to analyze the Saints diverse running game. The Saints will boast two dangerous halfbacks this Sunday, despite leading rusher Mike Bell’s unavailability due to a sprained MCL. Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas still comprise a formidable duo. Not to mention Heath Evans, a superb fullback. “Those two and Reggie… he’s such a threat,” continued Jenkins. He went on to assess the opposing backfield’s greatest strength, their ability to make plays in the passing game. “It really makes them two-dimensional. There’s no doubt we’re going to have to play a complete game on defense.”
Jenkins is no stranger to the Louisiana Super Dome, dating back to his time with the Panthers. “It’s very hostile,” he said, before reiterating “It’s a very hostile atmosphere. You’ve got the Mardi Gras element. But it’s also a fun place to play, as an opponent.”
With the Panthers now in the discussion, Jenkins was invited to draw comparisons between elite defenses of bygone Carolina glory with present company. “It’s too early,” he quickly responded. “It’s the third game. I’m not an expert at this defense, [though] it’s the same type of style. Same type of get in-and-disrupt style.”
No doubt, the Jets have been tested by some quality runners and offensive lines in the initial battles of 2009. Steve Slaton and the Texans were highly touted before week one, with good reason. The Patriots of recent vintage have been airing it out, even opting to rely on Matt Cassell last season instead of their rushers, despite his inexperience. But Fred Taylor seems to have gas left in the tank. And last week, Chris Johnson consistently exploited even the slightest daylight. There will be no rest for the Jets this week, either. “I think it makes us better,” said Jenkins. “The stiffer the competition, the more you have to focus. We’re being challenged every week. After we get the film, it’s like who we playing this week? Really? Damn… The game’s get bigger and bigger, and the opposition tougher and tougher.” Judging from Jenkins’ tone, and the results, the Jets seem to be relishing this ride. Onto voodoo…
Scott and the LB’s will need to be on their game in coverage.
The Saints’ proclivity to feed their halfbacks with a steady stream of passes is a fact not lost on Kerry Rhodes, who implied the front seven will be tested. “Secondary wise, [we have to] limit their receivers, and let the guys up front deal with the halfbacks,” said the safety.
The major news arising out of Rex Ryan’s presser was the announcement of Sheppard and Strickland’s absences. “Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland are not going to play,” said Ryan, flat out. “They are out. They will not play this week. I was hoping we’d be able to get them back and they are doing a lot better… [but] they’re not ready to go at 100 percent. We think we could probably play them right now if we had to, but I don’t think it’s fair to them.”
On the positive side, Ryan did seem adamant that the players currently listed as probable would all suit up and be available. “Everybody else [probable] should play. On that list you have: [Larry] Izzo, [Kris] Jenkins, [Jim] Leonhard, Sione Pouha, [Darrelle] Revis, [Kerry] Rhodes, Matt Slauson, Damien Woody, and Wallace Wright… they are all going to play.”
When asked whether he found the task of coaching against Sean Payton “fun”, Ryan retorted, “I’d probably classify it different. It’s fun to be challenged after the fact. I can say, ‘oh yeah, it was fun.’ You were challenged, but you wish you didn’t have to go through with it.”
The head coach claimed the Jets thought about signing a cornerback this week, but ultimately decided to stick with the current plan.