As Cullen Jenkins cleaned out his locker at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, he was left to reflect on his first season as a Philadelphia Eagle. Jenkins, who started 16 games and registered 5.5 sacks on the year, lamented the Eagles' slow start to the 2011 season, which was only magnified by the team's high level of play late in the season.
After signing with the Eagles in August, Jenkins arrived at training camp surrounded by big talk about the team's chances of winning a Super Bowl. For Jenkins, still a reigning Super Bowl champion for another month, that talk was worrisome.
"There were definitely red flags," said Jenkins. "A lot of people see Super Bowl, or I think they let the fact that the Super Bowl is there, and so many people talk about it right away. You can hear people nowadays, they come out of the draft talking about Super Bowl and I think it kind of gets thrown around too loosely now. It's obviously the ultimate goal in where you want to get to, but you have to understand that you have to work hard. It's something that is a process and you have to take it each step at a time to get to it and I think a lot of time people just want to jump from preseason to the Super Bowl without doing what it takes in between.
"I definitely felt like we had a shot, I just felt that we had to come together first. I felt like we had to show that we could play team football first, because it's not just about having good players on a team, it's about being able to go out there and play together."
So at first, Jenkins watched and observed as he tried to adjust to his new surroundings. Then, the Eagles hit their early season skid, falling to 1-4 after five games. At that point, Jenkins took it upon himself to become more of a vocal leader. Though he acknowledged that the Eagles' four-game winning streak to close the season was too little too late, Jenkins believes the Eagles have something very tangible to use moving forward.
"It'd be nice to be starting into the postseason right now," said Jenkins. "We definitely feel like we're a good enough team and looking at the teams that are in the playoffs right now, we feel like we'd be able to compete and play with any of them. Unfortunately, the NFL is all about taking care of business when you need to and we didn't do that consistently enough. It'll be a learning process for us and hopefully a humbling experience for everybody, something that gets us more motivated going into next year.
"The real important part is now we have something to build off of. I think the last four games are the biggest thing that we'll have to build off. It's something that we can look at and say, 'This is what we did. This is what we were able to do when we were playing like we were supposed to.' And we have to build from here on."
On a personal level, the 2011 season was a year of transition for Jenkins in more ways than the adjustment to his new team. A standout 3-4 defensive end with the Green Bay Packers, Jenkins moved inside as a 4-3 defensive tackle under the stewardship of Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn. It was a move that Jenkins felt fit his skill-set well. After all, the Eagles did account for a league-high 50 sacks.
"Being in a 3-4 is a whole different responsibilities, whole different stance, the way you're approaching the game and stuff. (It's different than) being on the inside rather than being on the end. But I feel like I can play anywhere along the defensive line and I can play it well, so all it takes for me is a little bit of time to adjust back to a position and I feel like I can do a good job at it.
"I like being able to attack and get after people. We had a lot of fun this year getting after quarterbacks and, I guess, just posing a lot of problems, creating a lot of havoc, so I definitely like it."
Needless to say, Jenkins is looking forward to continuing that pressure on the quarterback under the tutelage of Washburn (Jenkins added that he expects Washburn to return in 2012). But having lived through the Eagles' tumultuous 2011 season and seen the response by the team at the end of the season, Jenkins has high hopes for next year - but he'll also make sure the team doesn't count any Super Bowl chickens before they hatch this time around.
"Everybody is real upbeat, everybody believes that we can play or we can beat anybody right now and that's the attitude that we're supposed to have," said Jenkins. "And it's not just that same feeling that we had in training camp that was, 'Oh, because we have talented players we should beat people.' It's, 'Oh, we know how to play now. We know how to fight, we know how to go out there and impose your will on another team that will allow us to beat another team.'
"There was just a lot of fight in the team. You could see the fight starting to come, you could see everybody being resilient and not giving in and not giving up. The coaches the same way. The coaches kept consistent, kept a confident attitude, kept motivating us and through all the bad times we had this year, there was never a sense of quit among anybody in the organization."