Tim Jernigan prefers to look on the positive side of things.
The struggles he’s had since the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, well, that’s just part of life. What matters for Jernigan is that he is in the best shape of his life when the team reports to the NovaCare Complex on July 24 for the opening of Training Camp.
“I’m motivated to win games and to help this team,” he said. “I feel like last year, that’s in the past, man. I can’t change that. I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me.”
What’s ahead of Jernigan is being part of a defensive tackle rotation that should be strong. The Eagles signed veteran Malik Jackson after he was cut by Jacksonville and see him as a perfect complement to All-Pro Fletcher Cox. Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles’ interior defensive line tandem of Cox and Jackson No. 2 in the entire NFL entering the 2019 season. Some younger tackles, including Hassan Ridgeway and Treyvon Hester, are up-and-coming players.
And then there’s Jernigan, who was so instrumental in the Super Bowl season but then suffered a back injury shortly after the Eagles defeated New England. The injury lasted for most of the 2018 campaign, during which Jernigan spent most of his time rehabbing rather than playing.
“I’d rather not look back on that situation. It is what it is. It’s over,” Jernigan said. “My focus is on what’s going on now. I’m just excited about what we’ve got going on here.”
He isn’t the only one who is excited about the picture the Eagles are painting along the defensive line. Brandon Graham leads the attack off the edge, and the veteran trio of Cox, Jackson, and Jernigan should have all kinds of fun rotating and staying fresh and bringing the "WHAM” inside. Quarterbacks are going to have to be aware of all three tackles, who offer strong play against the run and downhill pressure in passing situations. Offensive linemen are going to have to be on their A games with the speed and effort and relentlessness coming from the inside.
For Jernigan, 2019 is about putting his game together again. He re-signed on the same day as the first round of the NFL Draft and the Eagles welcomed him back with open arms.
Now the Eagles have an enviable situation at defensive tackle with a hungry, healthy, and determined Jernigan ready to contribute from the start of the season.
“I feel good and I’m having fun. That’s my goal this year. If I do those things, the rest will take care of itself,” Jernigan said. “I’m going to control what I can control. This defense, it has a lot of pieces. I just want to help us win games and play my best football and have fun doing it.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey for Jernigan. A second-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2014, Jernigan worked his way into the role of a full-time starter and in 2016 played a career-high 630 snaps. And then he was traded to the Eagles, and became an instant starter next to Cox and the two worked beautifully together, helping the defense rank No. 1 in the NFL against the run that season. Then there was the playoff push and the Super Bowl win and then the back injury that put Jernigan in a different place in the NFL world – on the sidelines.
Jernigan played just 46 snaps during the regular season and then upped his participation in the postseason to 58 in the two games … and then free agency … and now Jernigan, as he can appreciate, has his focus on what’s ahead.
That’s why he’s so excited. Jernigan dropped 15 pounds in the offseason so he’s quicker and more explosive. He’s healthy in body and mind.
The 2019 season is an important one for Jernigan. He’s going to come blasting out of the gates in Training Camp.
“I’ve gone through some things but that’s how it goes,” Jernigan said. “I’m here to give it everything I’ve got. That’s what you’re going to see this year. All go. Everything in. It’s going to be fun.”
Taking the positive approach, that’s what Jernigan is doing, and he’s part of a very upbeat view at defensive tackle, one of the Eagles’ strengths in the season to come.