A national television audience saw Malcolm Jenkins’ game-changing interception in the Eagles’ dramatic 30-27 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night. But even though that might have been the biggest play of the game, it was the little things that Jenkins did that impressed his boss the most.
Jenkins is the Eagles’ starting free safety this season, after he spent the past five years with the New Orleans Saints. That position has been a black hole for the Eagles ever since Brian Dawkins was allowed to leave after the 2008 season – since then the Eagles have filled that hole with journeymen like Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Chung. And that’s why coach Chip Kelly made that position a priority in free agency this past offseason and why he targeted Jenkins from Day 1.
Finally, after five years, the Eagles have talent and leadership in the back of their defense again, and their entire secondary is better for it.
“There’s a guy back there making the calls and being distinct in terms of getting everybody set back there,’’ Kelly said. “But he always has a knack for making big plays. Came up huge again [Monday night]. He was around the ball, had a couple of pass break‑ups, tackles — just what we expected when we got him here. We thought he was obviously our top target [in free agency], and I think it’s paying off for us right now.’’
This is also what Jenkins had in mind when he decided to join the Eagles. He saw the same thing Kelly did – a glaring need for a solid safety – and that was the main reason he changed teams. Of course, the contract the Eagles waved at him — $16.5 million over three years, with $8.5 million guaranteed – didn’t hurt.
“This was a playoff team last year and obviously a team on the rise, and I couldn’t wait to get on the field with these guys,’’ Jenkins said. “Now we’re 2-0 and we can do great things this year if we take care of business on a daily basis.’’
Jenkins was originally the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Ohio State and he became a fixture in the Saints’ defense for his play on the field and his personality in the locker room. Those intangibles were a big reason the Eagles quickly offered him that fat contract as soon as free agency began. They needed another leader on defense and Jenkins has been it.
“He’s probably one of the smartest guys I’ve played with,’’ third-year cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “He’s always calm, always trying to keep everybody ready. And the reason he’s making plays is he’s a great player.’’
Both the talent and the temperament come naturally to Jenkins and that’s why the Saints players elected him as a team captain in 2012 and 2013.
“”I’ve always sort of gravitated to those kinds of [leadership] roles,’’ Jenkins said. “It’s not really anything I think about or plan. It’s just sort of happened that way naturally and I’ve always been willing to accept that role. That’s a big part of it, recognizing that you have that ability to be a leader and accepting the responsibility that goes with it.’’
Part of that responsibility is making defensive calls and making sure his teammates are lined up properly. It sounds simple, but, of course, it is not.
“Communicating is so important back there and he does a great job with that,’’ fellow safety Nate Allen said. “With the positions we play, if there’s a miscommunication if could cost us six points, it could cost us a game. So, you have to make good decisions and you have to make them quickly and then you have to make the plays, too. He does all of that as well as any safety in the league and playing next to him has helped me and our entire defense.’’