Malcolm Jenkins flatly admitted during his first session with the local media that tackling is an area of his game that needs work. That’s not the most comforting thing to hear for a lick-loving, safety-starved fan base with visions of 2012 still dancing in their heads.
Pro Football Focus charged Jenkins with 16 missed tackles in 2013, fifth-most among safeties. He ranked 62nd out of 67 safeties in tackling efficiency. His numbers overall have dipped over the past few seasons. He had a career high 12 passes defensed in 2010 to go with two interceptions (one which went for a touchdown), a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries en route to a second-team All-Pro selection. He has recorded just three interceptions since then and hasn’t quite reached the same level of play in the three seasons since.
According to Jenkins, scheme change and the way he was used by New Orleans of late has something to do with it. He was drafted out of Ohio State (14th overall in 2009) as a corner and played there his rookie campaign. An injury to Darren Sharper the following season prompted the switch to safety. The 26-year old explained that during the '10 campaign he was in more of a hybrid role, slipping to nickel on third down. When Sharper left after that season, he played more of a traditional safety role.
"I have a corner background, so those few years when I was asked to just play strictly free safety and play in the post, those kind of plays, being there all day makes me kind of uncomfortable," he said. "That's not where I'm best suited. I can't blame that and say that's why I missed tackles, that's not what I'm saying, but the years in which I was put in position to make plays, I made them. And I'm really looking forward to having that opportunity here, looking forward to having coaches that want to put me in those positions and realize that, so I'm excited."
This past season he was able to move around more and recorded a personal-best 2 1/2 sacks, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. But the missed tackles were still an issue.
The Saints did not make an offer to Jenkins and instead inked Jairus Byrd to a six-year deal with some $28 million guaranteed. The Eagles were the first team to contact Jenkins and moved quickly to sign him to a three-year, $16.25 million contract with $8.5 million guaranteed.
Jenkins said that the Saints' decision to move on from him has not affected his confidence, and believes that Chip Kelly and Billy Davis plan to use him in a way that will play more to his strengths.
"I can play deep. I'm a football junkie, so I can be the quarterback of the defense," said Jenkins, a team captain while in New Orleans. "I can still cover receivers in the slot. I can cover tight ends. I can blitz. And whenever I can do those things, when I have the freedom to move around and not be stagnant, that's when I've had my best years. I'm not your typical safety. It's kind of that hybrid that the league is moving to now with the bigger tight ends, the faster tight ends. You need guys that can be versatile, that can go down into the slot and you're not worried about them on receivers."
Jenkins played on multiple special teams units for New Orleans, enjoys the role, and anticipates that he will play specials here in Philly.
Kelly (through a statement) said that he was impressed with what he saw out of Jenkins while prepping for the playoff game against New Orleans. Jenkins took notice of the Eagles well before that.
"Even before we played them, I think it was apparent by Week 4 or 5 that there was something different about this Eagle team and what Chip Kelly brought to the table and it caught the attention of a lot of people," said Jenkins. "That was my first impressions: that he knows how to win and knows what he is going to win with. They are trying to get players to fit his scheme and not necessarily the best players, but players that will buy into what he's selling. I've been a part of winning teams before, and that's where it starts."
Sheil Kapadia contibuted to this report.