Malcolm Jenkins is in Orlando, Florida at the Pro Bowl enjoying himself. Sure, there are the required practice sessions as well as the visits to the local schools and the kids, but for the most part, the experience is one to enjoy. And one that Jenkins deserves to enjoy.
In a world where the negative too often takes the leading role, Jenkins is proof that the positive approach works. He has been nothing but a leader in the time since he signed with the Eagles prior to the 2014 season, keeping himself in tip-top shape with a rigorous diet, training to stay fit and withstand the extraordinary physical demands of his position, and making sure to prepare himself for the next day with a great night of sleep. Jenkins is in the Pro Bowl for the third time as an Eagle, voted as an alternate on the NFC squad and certainly just as deserving as any player on the team.
What the Eagles ask of Jenkins is similar, and maybe even more position-altering, than what then-defensive coordinator Jim Johnson asked of Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins in the mid-2000s. As the safety position in the NFL was expanding from an in-the-box player to one who was needed to do more than support the run defense and intimidate opposing receivers in the passing game, Johnson schemed the defense to funnel the running game inside to middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and he made Dawkins the moving chess piece.
Offenses had to account for Dawkins, understanding that he could, on any given play, line up as a deep safety, or rotate in coverage, or move into the box, and, in some instances, blitz the quarterback off the edge or inside the tackles. Dawkins’ sense of anticipation and timing combined with his courage, athletic ability, and intelligence made him a feared defensive player and, ultimately, one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Jenkins isn’t necessarily moved around as much as Dawkins was, but his versatility is a key to the Jim Schwartz defense. A cornerback when he was a first-round draft pick of the Saints in 2009, Jenkins transitioned to safety – well, kind of, but more on that in a moment – in the NFL and hasn’t looked back.
“He’s a good player who prepares the way you need to prepare in this league to play at a high level,” Schwartz said of Jenkins during the season. “We are always looking for multidimensional players and Malcolm and his ability to line up in a variety of positions gives us the kind of flexibility that really helps the defense.”
About that “safety” label. Let’s address that, as Jenkins did in the days leading up to Super Bowl LII. He called himself a “hybrid” then and not many people accepted the label. But as we saw once again in 2018, Jenkins showed just how flexible he can be, playing the safety positions, cornerback, nickel cornerback, and linebacker – both SAM (strong side) and MIKE (middle). How many players in this league can do that and not skip a beat? How many have the mental capability and the physical ability to pull off such an incredible workload?
The answer: very few.
“I’m a young guy in this league and Malcolm is somebody I looked up to right away,” cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc said. “I’m just new here and right away Malcolm is there to help me become a better player and help this defense. That’s what makes a team win.”
The 2019 season will be Jenkins’s 11th in the NFL. He’s there every week, for every snap, in this Eagles defense. He responds to each challenge with a positive, intense attitude. He puts in the work during the week and it shows on gamedays. Jenkins has never taken a short cut to success.
There is a lot more to Jenkins, of course. He is a thinking man, aware of the social challenges and active in the community to affect change for the good. The world needs more people like Malcolm Jenkins, who has been recognized for years for all of the philanthropic work his Malcolm Jenkins Foundation provides to communities in need.
As Jenkins enjoys his Pro Bowl reward this week in Orlando, the message here is one of appreciation for a prototype player and man who comes around rarely and who should make all of us pause and be thankful for what Jenkins has given the Eagles and will continue to give in the seasons ahead.