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News » Position less preferred may be safety net for Jenkins

Position less preferred may be safety net for Jenkins

Position less preferred may be safety net for Jenkins

uring his junior season at Ohio State, Malcolm Jenkins' coaches, desperate to strengthen their secondary, approached him with the idea of moving to safety in certain passing situations.

Already one of the nation's top cornerbacks and a team leader, Jenkins had no major qualms with making the transition.

Now a top-rated cornerback, Jenkins might be asked to make the switch to safety again after running 4.5-second 40-yard dashes at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and Ohio State's Pro Day last month.

"If you look at my film, I might not look as fast as some other guys," said Jenkins, a 6-foot, 205-pounder. "Wherever that came from, it's definitely snowballed. I have no control over where it's come from. I can only control what I do and how I perform."

In a draft class with no true safety projected to be selected in the first round, Jenkins likely will be the first defensive back to be picked.

Many mock drafts have the Saints, who signed veteran free safety Darren Sharper to a one-year contract this offseason, taking Jenkins at the No. 14 pick. The Saints have not drafted a defensive back in the first round since Alex Molden in 1996.

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said he likes Jenkins' skills and leadership on the back end of the defense.

Given the opportunity to coach Jenkins, who this past season won the Jim Thorpe Award given annually to the nation's best defensive back, Williams said he would try him at cornerback first before tinkering with a move to safety. That has to make Jenkins happy.

Jenkins, who likely would have been a top-20 pick last year had he left school early, has said all along that he prefers to play cornerback.

"I've been more comfortable at corner," he said. "That's where I've been playing (mostly) my last four years. I'm confident I can make some plays there."

But if it doesn't work out at cornerback, he's prepared to move to safety.

"Don't get me wrong, (I) want to do whatever it is I have to do to play," he said. "I played safety as a junior, and I was comfortable with it, and it's something I can definitely do. My preferred position would be corner. I'm the type of guy, I'm going to play special teams, wherever you need me."

The majority of the teams that view Jenkins as a safety do so largely because he failed to wow them with a fast 40 time. But they think he could be an ideal fit at free safety, where his size, savvy and ball-hawking skills could make him an instant success.

Already, some analysts are likening Jenkins' ability to Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, who was a Pro Bowler at safety and cornerback.

"What his best fit is for a team, where he's most valuable, is certainly an interesting discussion for all teams," New England Coach Bill Belichick said of Jenkins.

While the positions vary in the type of skill set needed, Jenkins just might be so talented he could play either well.

"To me, at corner, it was more technique sound," Jenkins said. "You don't have as many responsibilities, but your technique and your eye control have to be perfect because you've got to be able to cover this guy.

"At safety, it's more knowing where you need to be on the field and where you've got to fit. You can just sit back and roam. Your technique doesn't have to be as sharp. You've got some room to make up. You've got to know more about the defense and where you need to help other people and what the offense is coming out in."

For the past two years, Jenkins, who excelled in man-to-man coverage, was considered one of the nation's best cornerbacks, a natural pass defender with great instincts and good speed and quickness.

During his four years at Ohio State, he had 196 tackles and tied the school career record by returning two of his 11 career interceptions for touchdowns. He was also a force on special teams, blocking three kicks. And in 49 games for the Buckeyes, he didn't allow a touchdown reception.

But now, some say, he might not be fast enough to play cornerback in the NFL. To that, Jenkins says look at the film.

"If you put on a film of a guy that's 5-10, 185, I'm doing the same things that they're doing -- at my size," he said. "In the league, you've got receivers that are bigger and more physical, and that's what you need, a guy that can do it all. With my size and speed, it's something rare that you don't find a lot around the nation."

After Jenkins, there is a drop-off at safety.

Western Michigan's Louis Dalmas has seen his name move up and down draft boards. A versatile player and four-year starter at safety, he could be drafted early in the second round.

But several of the other top players at the position -- Missouri's William Moore, Oregon's Patrick Chung, Mississippi State's Derek Pegues and Texas Tech Darcel McBath -- might have to wait until the second day of the draft (rounds three through seven) to hear their names called.

Jenkins doesn't plan on waiting that long, even if it is to play a position that isn't ideal for him.

"I'm a big corner," he said. "Whenever you have a guy as big as I am, the question is always is he going to move up (to safety) at the next level. It's a question that I was prepared to get, and I was prepared to answer it."

. . . . . . .

Nakia Hogan can be reached at nhogan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3405.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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