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Malcolm Jenkins: A Natural-Born Leader

Posted Mar 12, 2014

The Eagles targeted safety Malcolm Jenkins from the moment the free agency negotiation period opened on Saturday  and two hours after players were officially allowed to sign on Tuesday, he had agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the team.

“Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie, Mr. (Howie) Roseman and Chip (Kelly) believed in me,” Jenkins said. “They sought after me, so I think it’s the best opportunity for me to be successful. I see the vision and the direction that Chip is going and I’m about winning. I know the fan base here is a passionate fan base and I’m a passionate player, so when it came down to it in free agency, I thought this would be a perfect fit. I’m from right up the road, so it’s a good fit for my career as well as my family.”

The Piscataway, N.J. native is an ideal match for the Eagles from both a culture and schematic standpoint. The keyword when describing the signing, just as it was with last offseason’s acquisitions, is “versatility.” Jenkins played cornerback at Ohio State and was drafted to play that position, which he did as a rookie and has continued to do in certain coverage packages since his transition to safety in 2010.

“I have a corner background,” Jenkins said. “I was drafted as a corner so now I’m one of those guys where I can play deep – I’m a football junkie so I can be the quarterback of the defense – I can still cover receivers in the slot, I can cover tight ends, I can blitz. Whenever I can do all those things, I have the freedom to move around and not be stagnant. That’s when I’ve had my best years. So I’m not your typical safety, I’m kind of that hybrid that the league is moving to now with the bigger tight ends, the faster tight ends. You need guys that can be versatile, go down in the slot, you’re not worried about them.”

Jenkins will bring that versatile skill set to the Eagles and enable defensive coordinator Bill Davis to disguise his coverages and blitz schemes in the base defense. He can play the deep half as a center fielder, down in the slot, over the tight end and outside the numbers.

“That was one of the big questions, I wanted to know how they were going to use me,” Jenkins said. “That (versatility) was pretty much it. They loved the fact that I could go in the slot, I could cover tight ends, blitz, and I was smart enough to take on a lot and be the leader in the back end and get guys lined up, digest the playbook and really quarterback the defense.

“In 2010, that was when I was able to be versatile. I was able to play the nickel on third downs because we still had Darren Sharper, so he would come in and play the free safety and I would play the nickel (cornerback) on third down – first and second down, I was at free (safety). I had that versatility to move around, and that was one of my more productive years. After that, when Sharper left, I stayed in the post for the next couple years and my production slowed down.

“This past year, they let me play the nickel again and my numbers came back up – I got sacks, pass breakups in coverage, two interceptions. Like I said, when I’m able to move around and use my skill set best, those are the years I’ve had the most production.”

Jenkins also revealed that he will be relied upon to quarterback the defense, something with which he has extensive experience from his time with the New Orleans Saints.

“They communicated to me that that’s what they wanted me to do and that’s right up my alley, that’s what I enjoy to do,” Jenkins said. “I love learning football just as much as I love playing it. So I’m really looking forward to kind of getting in the playbook."

It was not just the Eagles who had Jenkins on their wish list – he too pinpointed Philadelphia as a desirable destination.

“(The Eagles) were on (my list),” Jenkins said. “There were teams that actually needed safeties, cities that I would like to live in and enjoy outside football. Philly was definitely on that list. Like I said, I was born in New Jersey, and I just had a daughter three months ago, so being around grandma and all that plays a part. You want to go to a team that has good pedigree, that has good leadership, that wants to win and this definitely fit that criteria.”

In addition to the location, Jenkins was intrigued by the Eagles because of Chip Kelly’s presence and how he transformed the team last season.

“I think even before we played them (in the playoffs), I think to everybody it was apparent by Week 4 or 5 that there was something different about this team with Chip Kelly, and it caught the attention of a lot of people,” Jenkins said. “So that was my first impression was that he knows how to win, he knows what he’s going to win with and they’re trying to get players that will fit his scheme; not necessarily the best players, but players that will buy in to what he’s selling. I’ve been a part of winning teams before and that’s where it starts. It starts with good leadership from the top down.”

As far as Jenkins fitting into the culture the Eagles are trying to cultivate, his reputation as a film junkie and leader was appealing.

“I’m a natural-born leader,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been a captain on every team I’ve ever played on. I was a captain at Ohio State, just recently finished my second term as a captain with the Saints, and I’ve been around tremendous leaders – Jonathan Vilma, Drew Brees. They’ve affected me and I’ve seen how they’ve had an impact on people, so I try to lead by example first and I think that’s why people gravitate towards 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. I take it very seriously.

“In the NFL, you’re leading men, it’s not like you’re leading boys. I just plan on coming in and doing what I normally do – if that turns into me standing out as a leader, that’ll play out.”

One thing Jenkins made clear time and time again in his introductory press conference is that he is very much a “team” guy and is willing to do whatever it necessary to win. It is a quality that endeared him to the front office and coaching staff, and one which will certainly endear him to his new teammates.

“My transition to safety happened because Darren Sharper got hurt,” Jenkins said. “He was on PUP that year and (the Saints) needed someone to fill that (free safety) role, so I did, and as the team moved forward, that was my spot. That’s one reason I always talk about versatility is because I still do have those corner skills and I work on them all the time. I don’t like to put myself in a box and say I’m a corner or safety – I’m whatever you need me to be, so when corners go down, I can be an emergency corner, I can play in the slot, I can play the free or the strong. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m that guy.”

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