ST LOUIS – Lets get the caveats out of the way first.
Yes, it was off third-string quarterback Curtis Painter. Yes, it was in the third quarter of the Rams’ fourth and final preseason game, And, yes, most of those trying to tackle him probably won’t even be on the Ravens roster come Friday evening.
But for about ten seconds Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome, Rams second round pick Janoris Jenkins looked every bit like the first round talent that most expected him to be if not for a series of off the field issues.
The rookie intercepted an overthrown ball over the middle, made a few defenders miss and said goodbye. Jenkins’ next stop was the end zone, front-flipping across the goal line to complete an impressive 76-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“I think (Jenkins) has a chance to play in the league, especially when he gets the ball in his hands,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “He’s good around the ball. I’d like to think that’s going to happen more than once a year.”
Said Jenkins: “I got the ball in my hand and just wanted to make a play. Every time I get my hands on the ball I feel like I’m going to take it to the house.”
It was exactly the type of skill and athleticism the Rams saw when they took an admittedly risky pick on him with one of their three selections in the second round in the recent June NFL draft.
Scouts gushed over Jenkins’ ability leading up to the draft – and for good reason. The 5-10 speedster had 121 tackles and eight interceptions in three seasons at Florida, earning a spot on the All-SEC first team as a cornerback. His talent was first round worthy.
But Jenkins’ long list of attributes on the field was trumped by an even lengthier list of issues off it. He was tased and arrested by police in Gainesville, Fla., during a street fight in May 2009. He was also arrested twice for marijuana possession and was kicked off Florida’s team in April 2011.
Jenkins, who has fathered four kids with three different women, was left to play his final collegiate season at Division II North Alabama last fall. And NFL teams were left with a tough decision to make come draft day.
Some teams took Jenkins off their board completely, deciding they wouldn’t draft the troubled cornerback despite having what some called Pro-Bowl talent. But the Rams and new coach Jeff Fisher weren’t one of them, taking a chance that the 23-year-old’s problems were behind him.
And so far, so good. Jenkins has yet to find trouble off the field while continuing to impress on it. After being burned on a couple of long plays in the Rams’ third preseason game in Dallas a week ago, Jenkins was the one providing the highlights Thursday night.
“I think it was just the media painting that negative picture when he’s a great kid,” said veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan. “He’s come in and done the right things and said all the right things and done all the right things and continuing to work hard and make plays on the field. I think that will do enough talking in itself.”
Jenkins had six tackles, a forced fumble and the interception return for a touchdown in four preseason games, showing the potential that the Rams saw in immediately naming him one of their two starting cornerbacks.
And as the Ram prepare to open the regular season Sept. 9 against the Detroit Lions, the rookie feels he accomplished what he set out to do in his first preseason.
“It was a learning experience, learning how to communicate at the pro level and learning the ins and outs of the defense and getting comfortable with the guys I’m playing with,” Jenkins said. “
“I’m getting better each and every week, continuing to make strides. I don’t know everything yet because I just got here. Hopefully as the season progresses, hopefully I can get up to par.”
As Jenkins talked to a reporter in front of his locker, a piece of paper taped to the back of his stall stood out. It read, “Play as hard as you can, as fast as you can, for as long as you can. And don’t worry!!”
Jenkins explained that he received the saying on a dog chain while playing at Florida and ever since, he’s written the saying by hand and taped it to his locker on game day.
“Basically just go out there and give it everything you’ve got and if you make a mistake, just put it in the past and don’t worry,” Jenkins explained. “I live by that every game.”
Jenkins has made plenty of mistakes. But so far, he appears to be putting them behind him. And the Rams are ready to cash in on the rewards.