Jets rookies Jenkins, Lee looking to make immediate impacts
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Jordan Jenkins spent the past few months motivated by the thought of making 31 other teams pay for overlooking him.
The outside linebacker was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the New York Jets in April after many prognosticators had him pegged to go sometime in the second. That’s a fact that still doesn’t sit well with him.
“Every day, I think about it,” said Jenkins, the 83rd overall pick out of Georgia.
“Sometimes, I’d sit in the house and think, ‘Wow, some of the other clubs thought 82 other people were better than me.’ That’s just a chip on my shoulder I have to keep playing with.”
Jenkins is getting a chance to make an immediate impact in Todd Bowles’ defense, working mostly with the starters during the early portion of training camp. He is the early favorite to win the job at outside linebacker opposite Lorenzo Mauldin.
“My goal coming in was to try to make as many vets mad as possible,” Jenkins said, “because if I’m making them mad, that means I’m doing something worthwhile or just getting after it.”
Both Jenkins and Darron Lee, the Jets’ first-round pick, are expected to be key contributors right away because of their athleticism and playmaking abilities.
“We just knew that we were going to come after it 100 percent, full-throttle and try to leave people with an impact and just let them know that we’re rookies, but we’re rookies that want to get after it,” Jenkins said. “We like getting dirty. You come at me or whatever, you knock me down, I’m going to get up and keep coming.”
Lee was taken 20th overall after a terrific career at Ohio State, where he was a disruptive presence on the field for two seasons.
He’s a linebacker who is more like a hybrid, an athlete Bowles can use all around the defense. He can be an inside linebacker during one play, a safety during the next in a nickel package — and who knows where else? The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Lee has flashy speed and a nose for the football.
“He’s making great progress,” Bowles said. “We’re not looking at him for just the nickel. He has got to learn his linebacker stuff, too, on first, second down.”
Veteran Erin Henderson is the starter at inside linebacker opposite David Harris, so Lee might not be out there every down at first. But the rookie certainly can give Bowles something to consider if he plays at a high level during the preseason.
“He’s working at it right now,” Bowles said, “and we’ve got four games to see how he progresses.”
Lee is dealing with the ups and downs of being in the NFL, adjusting to life in the pros and no longer being the star on the field. There’s a lot to learn for rookies, and Lee must remain even-keeled during the process.
“I think that would be the hardest part for any rookie, especially me,” Lee said. “You’re not going to win every rep. This league will humble you. A lot of veterans have told me that: You will be humbled.”
Lee has been picking the brains of several teammates, including safety Calvin Pryor, a first-rounder in 2014 who is starting to come into his own as a valuable playmaker for the Jets.
“There were a couple plays (recently) in practice I was just like inches away from making,” Lee said.
“I asked him, ‘How do you not get so frustrated about that, because you’re so close, you’re confident in your ability to play at this level.’
“He’s like, ‘Hang in there. You’ve got to be patient with yourself.’”
Jenkins acknowledged that his first few months in the NFL have also been a transition.
“I’m out there trying to do my best, trying to learn everything so I can play fast without having to second-guess myself pre-snap,” he said. “I’m just loving the process, loving the chance I’ve been given and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
The 6-3, 259-pound Jenkins believes he can develop into an every-down outside linebacker because he has experience in rushing the quarterback, setting the edge against the run and also dropping into pass coverage.
At Georgia, he was asked to do all of those roles while playing first in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defensive system, and then Jeremy Pruitt’s multiple 3-4 schemes in which Jenkins played outside linebacker and defensive end.
“He’s had some up and down days,” Bowles said. “He’s learning a lot on the run and seeing a lot as the offense installs some more plays. He’s had some good plays and some bad plays. But overall he’s learning, he’s strong, he’s eager to learn, and he’s confident.”
Jenkins joked that it still hasn’t truly hit him that he’s in the NFL now, calling it “an out-of-world type thing.” That will all change when the Jets play their preseason opener against Jacksonville on Aug. 11.
“I’ve been counting the days since I came out here,” Jenkins said with a big grin. “That’s on my mind every second of the day.”
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