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Malcolm Jenkins can be movable chess piece in Saints defense

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How the Saints moving from a young tenderloin to a tough strip of jerky might pay dividends for a secondary looking to cash out in 2020.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Payton previously had this to say about the recently re-acquired Malcolm Jenkins:

“And now I’d say ... he’s one of the most dynamic, one of the best ‘hybrid’ guys. I mean he plays at linebacker level the majority of the time. He’s a great pressure player. He can cover slot receivers, he can cover tight ends, he covers running backs. He can play the middle of the field. He can play everywhere. He’s like your ‘do-it-all defensive player.’”

At this point, I’m 100% sure the most recent memory of Malcolm Jenkins in Payton’s head must have been Philadelphia Eagles December 23rd matchup versus the New York Giants, because everything he mentioned here about Jenkins’s game is on full display.

Jenkins is still old, and I get it - everyone wanted Vonn Bell back. I was in that number too, citing consistency in the secondary as the primary reason why.

If you were around for the 2014 season after the Saints lost Jenkins, Roman Harper, and Jabari Greer, and tried to replace them with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and 72-year-old Champ Bailey, then you understand the reason for reuniting with the former first round pick.

When the front office made the decision to go with Jenkins over Bell, some fans asked the question: Were they making the same mistake all over again?

Short answer: No.

Besides the intangibles, the experience of winning not one but two Super Bowls in his career and the familiarity with the system, Jenkins brings things to the table with regards to versatility that neither Bell, nor Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, can offer.

I decided to pull a few plays from the aforementioned Giants game that highlight the above attributes and what he may provide in his second stint in New Orleans. Let’s get to it!

Play #1 (Slot/Man) 3rd and 3 – The Eagles often deployed Jenkins as a Dime linebacker in the game. In this instance, the Giants came out in an empty set that pulled him out to the slot versus a wide receiver in man coverage.

The receiver takes an outside release as Jenkins shuffles laterally to jam then mirror him. The wide receiver fakes inside and sets Jenkins up for a rub. Jenkins recognizes and casually passes him off to the boundary cornerback behind him while picking up the underneath route from the tight end. The pass goes elsewhere, but it highlights a communication issue we’ve seen from the Saints at the worst moments in coverage.

Malcolm plays it seamlessly giving Jones one less option to throw to. Prior to the snap he could be seen chatting with the outside cornerback so that there was no question as to what was coming.

Play #2 (Mike LB in Dime) 3rd and 12 - This starts off as a bit of disguise with the safeties showing single-high coverage but eventually rotating to the Cover 2 look with Jenkins as the middle linebacker. New York is in the shotgun look with trips to the right of Jones. It’s actually an “All-Go” with the lone receiver running a drag underneath.

The ball is snapped and the focus is on the tight end running the seam. Typically that’s a weak spot in Cover 2 but the Tampa 2 variation uses the middle linebacker to carry that player up the seam and Jenkins does it well. He slow plays it initially and then once he realizes the tight end won’t be breaking off his route he turns his hips to get ready to run with him. He proceeds to gets into his body and then rides in his pocket for the remainder of the route while eventually turning to look for the ball.

He’s in position to undercut both routes in his vicinity but primarily erased the tight end as a threat. Good coverage across the board results in the quarterback having to take a sack for a -2 yard loss.

Play #3 (Nickel Box S) 3rd and 7 - This is a near interception and a wonderful read/job of baiting by Jenkins, he just needs to finish the play. He starts out over the slot in a press look but this is a zone coverage and he’s going to cover the routes by the highlighted receivers. The slot wide receiver takes an inside release and Jenkins sticks with him up until roughly the nine-yard line but has his eyes on the running back.

The moment the receiver hits the linebacker’s zone he releases him and immediately opens up towards the running back leaking out that Jones happens to be eyeing. He breaks on the ball, beats the runner to the catch point but goes all Roman Harper. Still, he’ll catch these more often than not.

Play #4 (Single High FS) 1st and 10 - The thing about this play is that Jenkins never moved off his spot. The tight end is the only player that is going to threaten his area and it appears as though he knows it. Giants are in shotgun 3x1 and right off the snap #27 squats on the 46-yard line while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. The tight end comes off the ball and runs down the seam and as he approaches the 35-yard line you can see Jenkins still hasn’t moved off his spot. In fact he’s taken a step forward from where he was at the snap to just in front the 45.

As the tight end gets behind the linebacker Jenkins takes a step back just in case he threatens deeper but the tight end breaks inside as expected. Jenkins drives on the route immediately and all but beats the tight end to his spot and if the ball would have been delivered it’s an easy interception. Good coverage across the board forces Jones to take a sack for a 10-yard loss on first down.

Play #5 (Blitz + Forced Fumble) 2nd and 8 - If you’ve ever played Halo you’ve heard the grunts in the Covenant say “They’re everywhere” referring to Master Chief and I’m sure Jones feels that way about #27 after this game. Jenkins starts out on the inside shoulder of the tight end and eventually ends up right over the left guard. The ball is snapped and the space between guard and center parts like the Red Sea leaving a clear path to the quarterback. ones bobbles the snap and as soon as he thinks he’s got a handle on it it there’s Jenkins to hit him and dislodge the ball from his grasp where it’s eventually recovered on the the Giants’ two-yard line.

Here’s the simple fact.

Jenkins was effective as a blitzer, Single High free safety, Box safety, Dime linebacker, in the slot, zone, man, hook, flat, curl....whatever. It didn’t matter the position the Eagles put him in, he was comfortable wherever and can be moved around like a queen’s chess piece in Dennis Allen’s defense.

As long as the pass-rush continues to improve, Jenkins counts as an upgrade and should help stabilize what has been an up and down secondary the last three years.