After missing the first four games of the season because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, defensive end Jarvis Jenkins now appears to be finding his rhythm.
The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Clemson product turned in his most productive outing of the season last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, recording a season-high four tackles and half a sack (the first of his career).
After missing all of his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Jenkins found himself learning on the fly for much of last season. Now a year later, things have started to slow down for him, and he has begun to gain a better understanding of the game and his responsibilities.
In today’s Game Day Q&A, Jenkins discusses his improvements thus far and gives us an inside look at his role within in the defense and the techniques he is working to master.
MJ: How are you feeling now that you’ve worked your way back into the mix and have six games under your belt?
JJ: I’m feeling real fresh. Those four games off gave me a little bit more legs. I feel quicker. I’m more confident when I get out there and it’s easier to make plays. I’m getting more reps and recognizing blocking schemes. I feel like I’ve been here all six games. But I really feel different from last year – recognizing stuff. And I see it on film. I’m getting to gaps fast, playing powerful. The pass rush is coming around real good. It can still get better, though. But I’m learning a lot from Barry Cofield and listening to [defensive line coach Jacob] Burney. They’re good people, so obviously they’re going to make me better.
MJ: What kind of advice do they give you?
JJ: Just get off the ball. Get off the ball. The big thing for me is, I have to have a big take-off step. If I’m going to have success in the pass rush, because I’m so big, getting upfield and taking the right step to get those guys turned sideways will be to my advantage. If I just stand around, obviously, me starting again isn’t in my repertoire because I’m so big. So, just getting upfield, and getting some depth is what my focus is on.
MJ: What goes into getting that proper first step?
JJ: Mentally and shifting my weight. Making sure my weight is all on my front leg. Kind of like – he described it as Usain Bolt. Take all that force from the front foot will make you have a good takeoff step. He breaks it all down for me and helps me understand how critical it is.
MJ: Is that one of those little things that you don’t realize in college and then learn in the league because you need more than just ability?
JJ: Yeah, I’m telling you, if I had known that in college, it would’ve been way, way better. That and learning blocking schemes is something that guys in college underestimate. That’s something I didn’t take pride in until I got here. Had I known that earlier, I’d be a way better pass rusher. But, it’s better late than never.
MJ: Last week you got in on the first sack of your career. Is that a sign things are starting to come around for you?
JJ: Definitely. Now, I hope they start raining in. It was just from recognizing a blocking scheme. It was a soft zone, and I recognized and came back. Kind of naturally, [linebacker Brian Orakpo] came under and I got to cover for him. It was something Burney says, playing with guys, you’ll recognize. When it starts coming natural like that, you know it’s coming in the pass rush, and hopefully it starts coming every week.
MJ: What kind of pregame preparation do you go through?
JJ: I relax. Most guys, some of them are real quiet. I’m joking around with guys, because if I go into a game tense, I think about too much. So, I like to go around laugh, joke, do my normal stuff, because I want to go in there just like it’s practice because if I go in not happy in the game, man, that’s when I mistakes come because I’m tensed up. So, relaxing and taking it in like it’s practice is my way.
MJ: Have you always had that approach, or did you learn it the hard way?
JJ: Actually, one of my teammates in college – Darrell Scott, who went on and played for the St. Louis Rams – my first year at Clemson, he played beside me, and he noticed how timid I was my first year of starting as a freshman was. He said, ‘You’ve got to go in there just like you’re joking at practice. You’re doing all this stuff in practice, and then you get in games, and you’re not even the same guy. Just relax. Do what you do at practice.’ So, once I did that, things took off.
MJ: How much more growing do you need to do as a player?
JJ: I’m nowhere near where I need to be. I’m growing as a pass rusher every day. I’m growing as far as recognizing blocking schemes. Just the mental part. The sky’s the limit for me.
MJ: What other areas are you trying to improve in?
JJ: Just improve my knowledge. This 3-4 defense, they’re always telling me how I need to keep my feet – keep them far apart. You won’t get power like that in the 3-4 playing the run if you don’t keep your feet apart, keep your hands inside. It’s just different situations. If we’re in nickel with two down linemen, obviously, you’re just trying to get off. But if we’re in our base 3-4 with a nose and two ends, that’s when I’m more square. You have to know situational football: knowing what’s required of you depending what situation you’re in.
MJ: Who’s been the toughest assignment you’ve faced so far?
JJ: Last week at Philly, because with [LeSean] McCoy, he’s so quick and can jump back in a gap, they wanted us to keep a hand free and recognize the scheme, picking for people. We did so much because of Philly’s offense.
MJ: In that situation, what are you looking at? Are you feeling the lineman and looking for the running back, or watching the lineman?
JJ: Oh, no. We don’t ever look at the running back. Everybody, it’s ‘If that’s your gap, you sit here. If he comes back, he’ll run into you.’ It was like going back to Pop Warner football. If he runs in your gap, that’s where you tackle him. That’s the way he kills guys. He’ll look at guys, catch you looking and boom, cut back. So, that’s why we basically went back to Pop Warner. We did pretty good on him. He only ran for 77 yards.
MJ: Now this week you switch to a much different guy in Frank Gore.
JJ: Power. Any time you’re playing Gore, it’s power, downhill. You just try to knock him back and don’t give him no creases. Power football is what the 3-4 defense is.
MJ: You were hurt in 2011 and didn’t face him. So what’s the closest comparison you can draw on?
JJ: Marshawn Lynch.
MJ: What does he do that’s similar?
JJ: He just moves his feet. His lower body is so strong that he just keeps moving his feet.
MJ: So how do you combat that?
JJ: Just wrap up and drive your feet. No arm-tackling. Break down on him. You’ll have guys helping you, but you just have to do your job, basically. Just do your job. If you try to do too much, that’s when he gets you and goes for 200 on you.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.
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