He is not practicing with the first team, but expectations are high for rookie nose tackle John Jenkins from Georgia, to make a big impact during his first year in the NFL. As this article by Gary Estwick in the Sun Herald states, getting Jenkins game ready will be a significant factor in determining the success of Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense.
As a 347-pound down lineman, Jenkins' effectiveness will be measured not by the number of tackles he makes but by the number of blockers he requires. Thereby, creating more opportunities for inside linebackers Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma to make tackles at the line of scrimmage. It would also be nice if Jenkins' presence pushed projected NT starter Brodrick Bunkley to meeting expectations. Needless to say the the former Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick has been unimpressive during his short time with the Saints.
One of the Saints' greatest strengths is their 3-headed monster attack at running back between Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. With the likely heavy rotation between Bunkley, Jenkins and Akiem Hicks, perhaps the Saints will find their 3-headed monster defensive counterpart at nose tackle.
While my close observation of Jenkins has been limited, I have my reservations about him. During his playing days at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, I made the Thursday night trip over to Poplarville for an evening of good 'ol family fun Junior College football. It turned out to be one of the most thrilling games I had ever seen. The underdog Pearl River Wildcats came back from a three-touchdown deficit to defeat Jenkins' heavily favored Gulf Coast Bulldogs 30-27.
Jenkins was considered one of the most highly prized JUCO prospects in the nation, and his large frame certainly made him stand out on a field with other large players, too. Yet, I did not see enough big plays coming from that big body in trying to stop little 'ol Pearl River from staging a three-touchdown comeback. Even during Jenkins' career at Georgia he really did not seem to display the type of smash mouth football you'd think would project him as a top tier NFL nose tackle.
Jenkins' Georgia Bulldogs had a great season but the defense still showed vulnerability in giving up a lot of points, which is especially surprising considering he was teamed up with first round linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alex Ogletree. This was especially true in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama which was a thriller, and much better than the Crimson Tide's actual National Championship Game against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs gave the future national champions all they wanted before losing in a heartbreaker 32-28. That was the closest Jenkins has come to facing NFL competition and the Bulldogs defense certainly struggled to stop the Crimson Tide rushing attack.
Having only limited football experience, before going to MS Gulf Coast Community College, Jenkins is still raw talent. In light of my critical comments, I recognize that I don't have the film that coaches and scouts have, and that Jenkins is not solely responsible for his teams' defensive flaws.
The Saints are certainly due for a great nose tackle, and I am hopeful that under the guidance of defensive line coach Bill Johnson and coordinator Rob Ryan, Jenkins could fulfill that role and eventually emerge as one of the league's best. Just how much should be expected of Jenkins in his first year, I'm really not that sure.