Jenkins Looks To Take His Multi-Dimensional Skills To The NFL

Posted Jun 25, 2013

Two-time All-SEC academic selection saw action at weakside linebacker, middle linebacker and safety at Florida.

Like all his rookie teammates, draft picks or free agents, Jelani Jenkins is trying to soak up as much knowledge as quickly as possible this spring after becoming a member of the Dolphins.

“I know it’s a lot of pressure technically, but I don’t really feel too much pressure,” Jenkins said. “It’s still football. I’m excited to come out here and get the chance to play football.”

Somehow, you get the feeling that getting up to speed from a mental standpoint won’t be much of an issue for Jenkins.

Remember, Jenkins graduated from Our Lady of Good Council High School in Olney, Md., with a GPA above 4.0 because of higher weighted Advancement Placement courses and he also was one of five national finalists for the Watkins Award, given annually to the “Premier African-American Male Scholar Athlete.”

Jenkins also earned SEC academic honors in each of his first two years at the University of Florida.

After the Dolphins selected Jenkins with their first of two picks in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, GM Jeff Ireland quickly mentioned Jenkins’ intelligence when describing his new linebacker.

“Very quick, very athletic,” Ireland said. “I think he’s very versatile. He’s a great kid, very educated, smart.”

Of course, intelligence alone isn’t going to make Jenkins succeed in the NFL. But Jenkins also has some athletic ability, evidenced by his being named Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and being ranked as the best outside linebacker in the nation by as a high school senior.

Jenkins made his mark as a cover linebacker at the Florida, although his biggest highlight came on special teams when he returned a blocked punt 36 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds to help the Gators escape an upset bid from Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012.

Another highlight was a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown against Furman in 2011 and another pick against Florida State last season.

Over the past three seasons, Jenkins started 31 games for one of the top programs in the best conference in college football, something else that should help his chances of succeeding in the NFL.

“Every week was like an NFL game, it seemed like,” Jenkins said. “There was never really a week off. Every team we faced, they can beat us any given day. So the coaching and the amount of experience I got in the SEC, I can’t take back on anything.

“There’s a lot of talent in the SEC and that definitely prepared me. I had a lot of great coaches and that prepared me, as well.”

The 6-foot, 243-pound Jenkins entered the NFL draft after bypassing his final season of eligibility at Florida. The decision, which Jenkins called the biggest of his life, came after Jenkins battled injuries in 2012.

Limited to nine games because of various ailments, Jenkins saw his tackle total drop from 75 in 2011 to 29. But after limiting his combine work to lifting, Jenkins showed the kind of mobility at his pro day workout that should give him the ability to cover tight ends in the NFL.

That’s something Jenkins very well could be asked to do early in his NFL career, along with contributing on special teams.

“Let’s face it, this is a passing league at this point in time,” Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “So to have linebackers that have the ability to do more than play the run (is important). Be multi-dimensional, play man coverage, play zone coverage, blitz effectively, all those things are part of it. I think the more skill you have as an athlete, the better off you are going to be.”

Jenkins has his share of skills heading into the NFL. He’s got the mobility, the versatility — he saw action at weakside linebacker, middle linebacker and safety at Florida — and he’s got the intelligence.

“I think I tackle real well and I also cover real well,” Jenkins said after being drafted. “Those are both things that I know I’m going to get better at as time goes by. I think I have a lot of ability. I have a lot of hope for the future knowing I’m going to get better. I’m looking forward to that.”
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