For the past few seasons the Philadelphia Eagles have lacked an identity on defense. Well no that’s misleading, their identity in that department has just been regarded as being mediocre. That’s not an unfair assessment, as the team has routinely given up just as many points as they’ve managed to score. What began during the final years of Andy Reid’s era trickled into the inaugural season of Chip Kelly, and while the issues weren’t as glaring they were still visible. Going into Kelly’s second season, it looks to improve and that will coincide with the addition of safety Malcolm Jenkins.
It’s no coincidence that a defense that was applauded for years for its stellar play started to take a nose dive after the loss of two key components. The untimely passing of former defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson, and also the departure of All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins occurred at a terrible time. Those two essential pieces were the heart and soul of the Eagles defense, and losing them started a ripple effect that is only now starting to regain shape.
All of the players that Kelly has added in the year that he’s been the head coach have one thing in common. They’re versatile for the positions they play. In the case of Jenkins, he is everything that one would want. Capable of playing both safety positions and also providing much-needed coverage in the secondary fixes an issue the Eagles had all last season. However him being an upgrade to the safety position isn’t why he’s so beneficial. It’s the chance that he can become that voice that Philly has needed for sometime.
Reports out of training camp imply that Jenkins has been the most vocal defensive player at practices. He’s often communicating with teammates and keeping them up to speed on what the offense may be doing. Such mannerisms for a new player take a bit of confidence that the team hasn’t seen since Dawkins. Not to say that his impact will be anywhere close to the former Eagle, but the Eagles have lacked a strong leader on that side of the field since. Yes the team has managed to produce good players in that time (Trent Cole has proven to be an elite pass-rusher when needed), but it hasn’t had a sense of direction. Even going back in more recent history, Asante Samuel provided that voice for the team at times. Now that we’re beginning the second year of Kelly’s term, and he has begun to gather all of the pieces that he prefers its time to look towards Jenkins.
In their pre-season game against the Chicago Bears, he certainly showed that he was ready to take initiative. His attentiveness to where the ball was placed at all times, while also accounting for his teammates positions was impressive. As a safety you expect him to be aware of the passer at all times, but knowing that Jenkins also provided support for the corners was comforting. One of the more frustrating things about the Eagles was watching the secondary get beat due to miscommunication and just terrible awareness.
Keeping in mind the Eagles are having an open battle at the strong safety position between Earl Wolff and Nate Allen, keeping Jenkins flexible at the free safety position is a must. Neither one of those players are adept companions (though Allen has a slight edge), but they also didn’t have a Jenkins to line up with last season. If he can keep them on track and focused as he’s been doing with the other players on defense there could certainly be an improvement in the secondary.
Again, it may be too early to declare Jenkins as the heart of the defense, but his on-field mannerisms have shown that he isn’t too far off. For a unit that’s been as undisciplined as it has been disappointing, its refreshing to see a new player brought in that’s prepared to do the grunt work. Malcolm Jenkins might be the piece that the team has needed all along.