The first interception of Eagles training camp came on Wednesday, when safety Malcolm Jenkins swiped a Mark Sanchez pass. Later in practice, Jenkins cut in front of a Nick Foles pass on a third and 2 for an interception that would have been returned for a touchdown had it been a Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
As the Eagles' top free-agent target and the team's biggest investment at safety since Brian Dawkins departed, Jenkins arrived in Philadelphia with much expected of him. The first week of training camp revealed what the Eagles hoped he would be: an in-his-prime, former first-round pick with the versatility, intelligence, and leadership to upgrade the NFL's worst pass defense.
The coaching staff has already listened to Jenkins' suggestions for the defense, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans called Jenkins "the piece we've been missing." But Jenkins' interceptions were noteworthy because the safety has not had many during his NFL career. The Saints replaced Jenkins with Jairus Byrd, one of the top playmaking safeties in the NFL.
Jenkins' coverage skills are clear, although they have translated to only six interceptions in five seasons. That's 16 fewer than Byrd grabbed in the same span. It's the same as Nate Allen recorded in one less season.
"I think it's a combination," Jenkins said of the reasons. "Some of them are drops. Some of them are scheme. Some of them are just being able to take chances."
Jenkins' role changed often in New Orleans, from a deep safety to an in-the-box safety. He said he sometimes needed to just "baby-sit." He totaled 11 interceptions in his final three seasons as a cornerback at Ohio State, and 2009 predraft scouting reports complimented his ball skills.
The Eagles thought Jenkins' skill-set could be fully utilized in their system. Jenkins said he will "definitely have opportunities to be around the ball," which could translate to interceptions.
"This year, I expect to have a lot," Jenkins said. "But I don't want to go out there and try to force it. That's when you blow coverages. You're chasing ghosts, and you forget your true responsibility because you're chasing the interception. I know if I do the right things, if I'm in the right places, keeping my eyes right, reading my keys, those plays will come."
Coach Chip Kelly said Jenkins has a good understanding of route combinations and catches the ball well, so he has no explanation for Jenkins' moderate interception total.
What's also been apparent to Kelly is Jenkins' understanding of defense. Jenkins is naturally inquisitive; one of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's most vivid memories of Jenkins is his walking around with a notebook. After one month in Philadelphia, Jenkins felt comfortable enough to exchange ideas with the coaching staff.
"I think he's done a great job with our staff of asking a lot of interesting questions in terms of, 'Hey, maybe we can fit it this way,' as opposed to the way we are fitting it," Kelly said. "I think he's really fit in ... maybe better than anybody on our staff thought he was going to fit in, just because we were not familiar with him."
Jenkins considered it a credit to the coaches that they're willing to listen to him. He added he would not come to the coaches unless he had a well-reasoned idea. His inquisitiveness appeals to Kelly's desire to know "the why."
"I prepare enough to know, when I come to them. I don't just make random suggestions," Jenkins said. "I use my thoughts, and give the why. And what we always talk about is don't give a suggestion without giving the why. . . . Not everything I say gets taken, but it's good to have suggestions go back and forth."
Jenkins said he has had other coaches who were "really stubborn" and would not listen to the players. The benefit of the dialogue, Jenkins said, is that it helps the players learn the defense and understand the reasons for particular concepts.
"Everyone has a voice," Jenkins said. "As we put this defense together, the more input we have from everyone, the more people will buy in because they'll feel like they'll have a hand in the defense."