For most of his life, Kris Jenkins has been in the middle. Even when he picked up two letters playing high school basketball in Ypsilanti, Mich., Jenkins was stationed inside the paint at power forward.
"I was in the middle — no point guard. You have to know your limitations," the Jets' nose tackle said after this morning's training camp practice. "I've never done the pretty positions. I've always been a grunt. I take pride in being a grunt."
Now in his eighth NFL season, Jenkins has adjusted well to his new team and his new surroundings. He wears a green jersey at practice instead of that familiar Carolina blue he sported during his seven-year tenure with the Panthers.
"I think I got comfortable and got used to having that jersey on all the time," he says. "Sometimes I have to take a step back and look down at my pants. I'm not used to wearing green."
Teammates have taken a liking towards Jenkins, a 29-year-old with an engaging personality. He is a jokester, a man who came to New York in February with no pretense. From the very moment he walked in the locker room, he was himself.
"He is always playing, always joking," said CB Darrelle Revis. "He jokes on other guys. It's just funny. Nobody takes it personal — it's just how he is. Sometimes we might be in the huddle and he'll say a joke to keep us just motivated, live and ready to go."
On Friday, Jenkins spotted DE Shaun Ellis with a reporter and decided to give Ellis a little water-bottle bath. He often lightens the mood and is know to break into a jig — to a song on the practice field or without music in the lunch line.
"He's a joker. You can't get mad at him when he's talking because he's a bigger guy," says S Kerry Rhodes. "You just have to take it."
When asked about his comedic exploits, Jenkins offered a deadpanned response.
"If somebody sets themselves up, I might crack a joke every blue moon," he said. "But usually I just like to sit in a corner, take a nap whenever I can and just get my energy back."
Perhaps he does take a nap every now and again because Jenkins never seems void of energy. While many observers analyze every throw Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington make, they're missing out on a great battle between Jenkins (6'4", 359) and C Nick Mangold (6'4, 300).
"He's got just amazing physical strength and a quickness you wouldn't expect out of him," Mangold said. "But his strength is a huge asset for him."
The Jets' move to the 3-4 front has meant a transition from one-gapping to two-gapping for Jenkins. He is responsible for more space and has to read before making his move.
"You still can fire off the ball, but you have to see what's coming first before you can do that," he said
There are a lot of weapons in the Jenkins arsenal. It's easy to say he's just a big dude, but he's got some uncanny athleticism.
"I think he's doing a good job," Mangini said. "He's working at it. What's nice is when his hands aren't inside and he doesn't have the proper leverage, there are a lot of other things he can rely on to not get moved."
If you watch Jenkins play after play, it's hard to come away unimpressed with his footwork. More than a decade ago at Belleville High School, the then-270-pound Jenkins competed in the 400-meter run, 300 hurdles, shot put and discuss.
During today's practice, he gracefully pursued running plays that went away from him and moved adeptly toward the boundary.
"I've never seen a guy that big and tall move like he moves," Revis said. "It's just crazy what God creates. I'm happy he's on our team because the guy moves, he holds up guys on run plays, and he's a man amongst of boys."
Expect the man to see a lot of double-teams this season. It will be an awfully large chore for any center to block him one-on-one, so that means more chips from the guards. That will result in a difficult path for those O-linemen attempting to reach linebackers like David Harris.
"You get used to that on the line," Jenkins said. "If you start doing what you're supposed to do, you get rewarded by getting double-teamed and screens and traps and whams and different things — I know I'm on the right track. It doesn't always feel the greatest physically, but at least I'm starting to understand what I'm supposed to do."
Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has registered 290 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his career, has been somewhat surprised by the media attention.
"I'm not a receiver, I'm not built to be a quarterback. I'm usually surprised that every day I've been coming over to speak to you all. I'm so used to just walking in after practice," he said. "It just comes with it. I take pride in doing the dirty work."
The grunt will get his chance to play the point this season. Jenkins, a playful kid at heart, is the epicenter of the Jets' defense and the unit's success will begin with him.