Kris Jenkins has always maintained he's happy doing the grunt work out of the spotlight. But Jenkins, a 6'4", 360-pound nose tackle, has been so good in his first season with the Jets that he's got nowhere to hide.
"He's as dominant a defensive player as there is in the National Football League right now," said NFL analyst Trent Dilfer recently on an ESPN broadcast.
When informed of Dilfer's analysis today, Jenkins acted surprised and gave a humble response.
"I feel like I have to step it up this week because if that's what my opponent's expecting, then they're going to be out there playing pretty hard," he said.
This week's opponents, the St. Louis Rams, hope center Nick Leckey can somehow slow down Jenkins, but he'll need a lot of help.
"He's a guy we tried to trade for last year before the Jets got him," said Rams interim head coach Jim Haslett. "I love the guy. From what I've seen on film, I think he's one of the best players, or at least the most dominant guy that I've seen on film this year, in the National Football League. I see a guy with great quickness and he's powerful and playing hard — the same things he did at Carolina, but I see it on a consistent basis."
In his eighth season out of Maryland, the 29-year-old Jenkins is off to one of the best starts in his career. A three-time Pro Bowl selection who was named to Pro Football Weekly's Midseason All-Pro team this week, Jenkins has three sacks and is the anchor of a defense allowing 76 rush yards per game.
"I definitely feel like I have the intensity like I had in my second and third year [2002 and '03]," he said. "I feel I definitely have that back. As far as my work ethic and preparation and understanding the game, I feel like that's been better than it ever has been."
In what has the potential to be one of the top trades in franchise history, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum acquired Jenkins from Carolina in February in exchange for the Jets' third-round (No. 67) and fifth-round (No. 141) draft picks. The swap continues to look better and better only days after Jenkins hit the Bills line with an array of swim moves, club moves and vicious slaps. Despite often finding double-teams, Jenkins racked up two sacks and three hurries of Trent Edwards.
"I just feel like New York has been a good fit. I have to give some of that credit to the area and the situation," Jenkins said. "I feel like I can be myself and I feel like I fit good as far as the 3-4 nose. I'm just enjoying every day and taking it a day at a time."
He has definitely found a good zone here. He's a reporter's dream, amicable and honest and just as willing to talk about the presidential election or his brother serving overseas as he is the nasty life in the trenches.
After seven seasons with the Panthers, Jenkins was eager for a new start and challenged himself to be the best he possibly he could be.
"I just wanted to show myself — I just wanted to answer some of those questions within myself. I know everyone kind of understands that sometimes the hardest challenges you have are within your own head," he said. "I love this game and I wasn't ready to give it up, but for a couple of years now it's been pretty much a one-sided picture painted of me and the type of individual I am."
He admits to mistakes in his past but says he's matured as a person. That personal growth off the field has helped Jenkins, a proud father of three boys, on Sundays.
"Once I started to get better as a person, it started to reflect on the field. If I look at myself and give myself credit for anything, it's the fact that I've been doing the little things to just take care of my own life," he said. "It reflects in my job performance, it reflects in home and with family and it reflects on everything. To me there's always a bigger picture."
The Jets' big picture is they'll be in the playoff hunt as long as Jenkins maintains his excellent play. NFL insiders will likely continue to lavish praise on Big Jenks even if he doesn't see himself as a star.
"I don't consider myself a celebrity or anything like that, but I'm definitely enjoying the ride," he said. "At some point it's going to end, so at least I have another war story to talk about when I start getting old and the hair starts to disappear."