Saint’s Jenkins draws high praise from coaches

When Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a couple Drew Brees passes in

the early days of Saints training camp, it was apparent he’d been

doing his homework during the NFL lockout.

”He’s a smart player. The decisions he makes on the field are

generally the right ones,” head coach Sean Payton said. ”He’s

really become an outstanding player and it’s happening right in

front of our eyes. We saw signs of it in his rookie season, and we

certainly saw it in his contributions last year.”

Only a year ago, Jenkins was trying to learn a new position.

He had been drafted as a cornerback out of Ohio State in 2009,

but in his second season, it became evident that former Pro Bowl

free safety Darren Sharper would not be healthy enough to start the

season, and someone would have to fill the void.

Jenkins wound up playing well enough that he never really lost

his starting job even after Sharper returned to the active roster

in midseason. Sharper started three games at free safety in 2010,

but the main reason was because the coaching staff respected

Jenkins’ versatility enough to let him start three games at

cornerback because of injuries at that spot.

Heading into his third season, Jenkins is not only entrenched as

the starting free safety, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams

considers him one of the leaders of his unit.

”If he stays healthy,” Williams began, ”he’ll go down as one

of the better Saints of all-time, just because of his character,

his ability, his want-to, everything.”

Williams raves about Jenkins’ work ethic and study habits,

estimating that he probably watches as much film as any coach in

the NFL.

Jenkins said he spends two to three hours a day watching film,

and added that, during an offseason in which players were barred

from spending time at their team’s training headquarters, he sat at

home watching film of every Saints game from last season three

times.

Jenkins scrutinized the plays that involved him, looking for

ways he could have improved his coverage.

”I’ve definitely been taking notes and I’m trying those things

out now as we go through this training camp and seeing what I can

do to get better,” Jenkins said. ”When you work in the offseason,

you study yourself. That’s how you know what to work on when you

get to training camp.”

Jenkins said the time he puts into studying the game, perhaps

more than anything, is responsible for his early success.

”Studying is a big part of it because then you can use your

instincts,” Jenkins said. ”A lot of guys are instinctive, but if

you don’t know what’s coming, at the end of the day you’re pretty

much just guessing and reacting. And at this level, reacting,

you’ll be a step behind every time.”

When Jenkins looks at film of opponents, he’s looking for

tendencies as subtle as whether a certain offensive lineman leans

forward in his pre-snap stance more on running plays than passing

plays.

”There’s a bunch of things that you can look at and study just

from a body language standpoint that make you that much faster on

the field,” Jenkins said.

He also looks for his own tendencies, to see if maybe he’s

tipping off quarterbacks to his coverages.

Last season, Jenkins was in on 82 tackles and has two

interceptions, one of which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown.

He also had a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His

biggest play might have been his strip in Dallas on Thanksgiving of

receiver Roy Williams on the Saints 11-yard line in the fourth

quarter.

The play produced a game-changing turnover that turned what

looked like an insurance score for Dallas into a game-winning drive

for New Orleans.

The Saints were confident in the 6-foot, 204-pound Jenkins’

natural ability when they drafted him 14th overall. What they liked

even more, though, was his mental approach to the game and

leadership qualities.

Williams scouted Jenkins himself, even sneaking around Ohio

State’s campus to see how Buckeyes teammates related to him. By the

time Williams arrived in Columbus, Jenkins senior season was over

and he was getting ready for the draft. Yet Williams noticed that

Jenkins was still treated as a valuable member of the program, a

sign that his influence on younger players was something the

Buckeyes wanted to maintain as long as they could.

Jenkins said Williams has told him he could be great – if he

continues to work hard and keeps learning. Jenkins is taking the

latter part of that advice to heart.

”I’m still working. I’m still learning. I’ll meet that goal

when I get there,” Jenkins said. ”Right now I’m just trying to

get better, continue to learn this craft, learn this position and

I’ll look up when the time comes.”