The NFL lists Redskins defensive end Jarvis Jenkins as a third-year player, but the Clemson product considers himself a second-year pro after he missed all but three preseason games of his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Now, as he prepares for what appears to be his second season as a starter, Jenkins hopes to make a significant leap in his development and play well beyond his years.
The access to the Redskins’ offseason practices has been limited, and all of the thrice-weekly sessions are non-contact, but there’s still a noticeable difference in Jenkins. He looks quicker and stronger, and talking to him, he sounds more confident.
That’s because Jenkins feels all of those things.
“It’s easier,” Jenkins – Washington’s second-round pick in 2011 – said last Thursday. “I’m able to play a lot faster. Now that I’ve got a year under my belt, you know, with me being hurt my first year. So now I’m coming out here, not really thinking, and just playing ball.”
Last season was supposed to be Jenkins’ re-acclimation to football, and the continuation of his introduction to the NFL. The Redskins planned to ease him in as a swing end in their 3-4 system behind veterans Adam Carriker (the left end) and Stephen Bowen (on the right). But Carriker tore the quadriceps tendon in his right leg early in the second game of the season, forcing Jenkins into a starting role.
Jenkins admittedly struggled to adjust to the speed of the game because he still had to learn to trust his reconstructed right knee.
“Really, it’s really confidence,” he said. “After the first six or seven months, it’s about confidence. I worked really hard to get my knee back, and the first half of the season, it was just confidence, being confident that I could plant off that foot [without] reminiscing on when I did get hurt what had happened. When that happened, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m good now,’ and then I went out and played. … I played way faster in the second half of the season.”
Jenkins turned a corner after the bye week in Week 10. He proved more stout against the run and began applying pressure on quarterbacks. But, Jenkins didn’t register a sack all season, something he aims to change this year.
Asked about the biggest improvement to his game this offseason, Jenkins said, “The speed of my get-off. The main thing I needed to work on from last year was pass rush. That’s what I’m focusing on this year. Obviously, I can stop the run. We’re a good team at doing that. We’ve just got to improve on our pass rush. That’s what the D-line is working on.”
That faster first step comes as a result of improved lower body strength, better use of his hands and improved anticipation and mental sharpness, Jenkins said. This year, he has a good chance to start once again as Carriker still is recovering from his injury and isn’t expected to return to the field before training camp.
Jenkins hopes that the upcoming season features a more disruptive version of himself. Although the main role of linemen in Washington’s scheme isn’t to register sacks (the linemen are asked primarily to take on blockers and open gaps for the linebackers to blitz through), Jenkins knows that there will be opportunities to get to the quarterback, and he wants to take advantage of them.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a certain number,” Jenkins said, “[but] I did leave a lot of sacks out there. They put me in a great position to get sacks and I should’ve capitalized on them. I’m going into this season not making the same mistakes. Obviously, we don’t get sacks, but we do have situations where we do, and I have to take advantage of that.”
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