Reporting David Elfin
Washington’s rookies, like quarterback Robert Griffin III, are eager for their first taste of NFL action in Thursday’s preseason opener at Buffalo. The newly-acquired veterans, like safety Tanard Jackson, can’t wait to show their former teams made mistakes by getting rid of them. Tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams want to put their suspensions that ended their 2011 season four games early finally behind them.
And then there’s defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who hasn’t been on the field since last Aug. 23 when he tore his right ACL in the Redskins’ third preseason game at Baltimore.
“I most definitely feel like a rookie,” Jenkins said. “I haven’t played a regular season game yet. One rookie having two camps is kinda hard, but I’m having fun. I haven’t hit nobody, had no real physical contact in a year so I’m anxious to get out there and put them pads on.”
As long as last season’s 5-11 road to another finish in the NFC East basement was for the Redskins, it was even longer for Jenkins, who could only watch it happen without being able to do anything to help.
“It was kind of hard coming from a person who really never had an injury before,” said the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Jenkins, who’s still wearing a brace on his right knee to protect the surgically repaired ligament. “My dad was always telling me adversity makes a person stronger. I rehabbed, got it real healthy so I’ll never get an injury again.”
That’s a promise that no one, especially an NFL player, can make, but the Redskins are certainly looking forward to finally seeing what Jenkins can do when the games count. After all, he’s the only true defensive lineman they’ve drafted above the fifth round going back to 1998.
Of the 22 linemen who were regulars for them over the first 13 years of Dan Snyder’s ownership, only Kenard Lang (first round, 1997, during the Cooke regime), Anthony Montgomery (fifth, 2006) and Kedric Golston (sixth, 2006) were homegrown. The only linemen to be at least five-year starters, Dan Wilkinson (trade, 1998) and Cornelius Griffin (free agent, 2004) were both expensive acquisitions.
“(Jarvis) was having a heck of a (2011) preseason,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He was a difference-maker inside.”
Shanahan said that Jenkins has looked “very impressive” this summer, a view seconded by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, himself an All-American defensive end at Texas.
“He’s gonna add a lot, penetration, making plays,” Orakpo said of Jenkins, who had 31 tackles for losses and 31 quarterback pressures as a defensive tackle at Clemson. “The guys can pass-rush his (rear end) off. I’m very excited (that) he’s back.”
Jenkins, a self—described “run-stopper” is the only truly new piece in Washington’s front seven, a unit that was mostly responsible for the defense soaring from 31st in yards allowed in 2010 to 13th in 2011. However, Jenkins isn’t going to displace starting ends Adam Carriker or Stephen Bowen just yet and he’s just fine with that. The plan is for Jenkins to rotate at both ends and be on the field in nickel situations.
“I add depth,” Jenkins said. “I know I’m going to play a good bit. I’m not worried about being a starter. It’s not about being a starter. It’s about contributing and having a good game consistently for the whole season.”
As Bowen said, “The best D-lines, they come at people in waves.”
Jenkins is riding the wave for the second straight summer. It should be fun to watch him ride it into his rookie year as long he doesn’t crash again.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin