Malcolm Jenkins will always have a soft spot for New Orleans. It's the city he called home from 2009 to 2014. It's where he won a Super Bowl with the Saints in the 2009 season. It's where he met his wife, Morrisa, and it's where his daughter, Elle, was born. But don't expect any warm and fuzzies from the 27-year-old safety when his former team comes to town on Sunday looking to climb out of its own 1-3 hole at the expense of Jenkins and his new team, the Eagles.
"I'm not the first person to ever get let go by a team, and I won't be the last," he said matter-of-factly on Tuesday. "I try not to make it personal, because at the end of the day, it's all about the win. Right now, where we are as a team, it's more (about that) that than any personal agenda. ... I don't need extra motivation to get ready for this game."
Since signing with Philadelphia as a free agent in spring 2014, Jenkins has become one of the leaders of a defensive unit that currently ranks top-12 in the league in points allowed and in both passing and rushing yards allowed per play. Through four games this year, the former first-round pick leads the team in tackles (22), deflected passes (5) and forced fumbles (2). He even leads the Eagles in special teams tackles, with five.
Jenkins is a versatile player. A one-time slot corner who converted to safety in his second season after an injury to veteran Darren Sharper left the Saints thin at that position, he is equally proficient as a run stopper as he is dropping back in coverage. For head coach Chip Kelly, that positional plasticity was what initially attracted him to Jenkins.
"The one thing that stuck out to us, in terms of what we were looking for at safety, is that you have to be able to play down, and you also have to be able to play high," he said of the team's priorities two offseasons ago. "I think it's no coincidence that both of our safeties were both corners to start their career, because you need to be able to cover. We are not a traditional one high safety, another guy in the box type of defensive operation. We play right and left safety, and they both could be down at times, they both could be high at times and it really takes a guy that's got some versatility. We saw that. That's why he was our No. 1 free safety that we were looking at in free agency two years ago."
The Eagles saw what that versatility brought to the table first-hand, when they squared off against the Saints in the opening round of the playoffs two seasons ago. It was Chip Kelly's first postseason game with Philadelphia, and his offense, ranked second in yards per play (6.3) and fourth in points per game (27.6) in the regular season, was held to a paltry 4.5 yards per play in a 26-24 home loss. And although Jenkins finished that game with just four tackles, his impact for New Orleans was noticed by defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
"(Signing Malcolm Jenkins) was based on that whole season, but that game really put the nail in the coffin," Davis explained. "Because we're a two-gap run front, you can go get those safeties that were corners, you can get the guys that fly around like Walter (Thurmond) does. ... It's just something I think in the NFL you have to have. The longer I coach, and the longer I'm around it, you've got to have position flexibility, and the players with the brain to do it."
Davis' defense has been impressive, having forced the fourth-most turnovers (9) in the NFL through four games and having notched more takeaways than touchdowns allowed (7), a feat only four other teams can claim. Heading into Week 5, there's a sense of hope for every single coach and every single player in the locker room, but the level-headed Jenkins is making sure that mindset doesn't spiral into despondency.
"To come in and say that there's an urgency to get better and an urgency to win is obvious," he said. "But at the same time, it's not time to panic and start doing things out of character and out of what we believe is going to win games. It's really time to hone in on the process, to evaluate the process and execute the process."