The Jets have an NFL-high and franchise-record seven players named to this year's Pro Bowl. Newyorkjets.com will profile each all-star this week before practices begin in Hawaii next week. Today: Kris Jenkins.
Some people may have written Kris Jenkins off.
After seven years with the Carolina Panthers, he was traded to the Jets on Feb. 29 in exchange for a couple of draft selections. Not only did Jenkins have to get in shape and assimilate himself into a new organization, but the defensive tackle had to learn a new position.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Cats, Jenkins was pegged by the football administration to become the anchor of the Jets' 3-4 defensive front. Instead of one-gapping as he did for the majority of his career, he was handed a second gap.
"In the 4-3 you are getting off the ball. You go, you take off. You react to whatever you get," he said. "In the 3-4, you sit on your heels and you wait for them to move, then you react to what you get. You still can fire off the ball, but you have to see what is coming first before you can do that."
The 6'4", 360-pound Jenkins did a fine job showcasing his abilities throughout the 2008 campaign. He started all 16 games for the Green & White, registering 53 tackles — including 30 solo, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl and will be a teammate of Titans DT Albert Haynesworth for the annual all-star game a week from Super Bowl Sunday.
After the Jets ran off eight wins in their first 11 contests, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher praised Jenkins' work in the trenches on Thanksgiving Day.
"This guy right now is playing like a man possessed," said the CBS studio analyst. "He is leading that defense and he is the best defensive player in the National Football League."
In a Week 9 contest at Buffalo, Jenkins gave a virtuoso performance against the Bills. Despite double-team attention, he racked up 1.5 sacks and three QB hurries as the Jets held Buffalo to 30 yards rushing.
For his efforts, Jenkins was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. And throughout his first season in New York, he remained in the spotlight.
"This is the most media attention that I've gotten in a year. This is definitely something that has been new to me," he said. "You do what you can regardless of whatever it is, whether it's making a play or doing something so someone else can make a play. Whatever you have to do to help your group out, that's what you do."
Even though the Jets fell short of their postseason goal, Jenkins helped the defense make tremendous strides in '08. In one calendar year, they transformed the NFL's 29th-ranked rush defense (134.8 yards per game) into the league's seventh-best unit (94.9 yards per game).
"You have to realize that it's 11 people," he said. "A lot of people look at it like 'You came to New York and you stopped the run.' I wish I could take all the credit, but there are 11 people out there. I'm not making every single tackle. I'm just doing what I can as a player to help out that group."
Entering December, the Jets owned the NFL's third-ranked rush defense and hadn't allowed an opposing runner to top the 100-yard mark. But the Broncos' Peyton Hillis gained 129 on the ground in Week 13, the Bills' Marshawn Lynch picked up 127 in Week 15 and the Seahawks' Maurice Morris collected 116 in Week 16.
Sure, those teams game-planned well to neutralize Jenkins, but injuries slowed him down more than anything else. After battling a back injury early in the season, "Big Jenks" had a hip problem and was listed on the team's injury report each of the final three weeks.
"I haven't had anything serious enough to keep me off the field, but at the same time there are some things that I have to work on. I am learning my body," he said. "It's a different scheme and my body is reacting different. I am taking it all in stride. I want everybody to understand that you have to work with me. I wish I could be Superman for everybody and I wish that I could be 100 percent perfect every time I go out there."
"You have to walk that fine line of having a player out there and making sure he gets his rest," new Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told reporters. "If Kris Jenkins is standing next to Rex [Ryan] for too many plays during a game, your pens will be very active. On the other hand, if you overuse a player and wear him down, that's an issue as well."
With a full off-season, the Jets can expect to have Jenkins at 100 percent by training camp. And even with a change of coaches, there will be system continuity because Rex Ryan also employs a 3-4 front. But Ryan is an innovative playcaller and maybe we'll even see the 360-pounder dropping a few times in some exotic looks.
"One thing about our system is we like to move guys all over the place," Pettine said. "We want to line up guys in non-traditional positions."
"I'm just glad to know that I can do both," Jenkins said of the DT positions. "This year I really got to show I can play 3-4 nose and I know I can play a 4-3 defensive lineman and a 3-4 defensive lineman. Whichever way it goes, I'm going to be prepared for whatever comes."
But first things first, and that's a trip to Hawaii for Kris Jenkins. After a season of seemingly flawless transitions, he's earned a nice vacation.