by David Elfin

Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, Washington’s second-round selection in the 2011 draft, was enjoying a fine preseason when he tore his right ACL against Baltimore. That was the end of Jenkins’ rookie year.

An injury also determined Jenkins’ 2012 season, one in which he started the final 14 games after left end Adam Carriker suffered a season-ending torn right quadriceps in Week 2. Jenkins started the final 14 games in Carriker’s place. However, the former Clemson standout didn’t record a single sack, making him one of just four starting NFL defensive ends to do so and giving him a major goal for this season.

“The main thing I needed to work from last year was pass rush,” said Jenkins, who worked with the first team throughout organized team activities and minicamp this spring as Carriker continued to rehab from a second surgery. “That’s what I’m focusing on. Last year we did a good job against the run. We just gotta improve on our pass rush. If we don’t get sacks, it shows in our secondary. Those guys can’t cover forever.”

Indeed, pass defense was Washington’s Achilles heel during its surprising 2012 NFC East title-winning season. Right end Stephen Bowen slid from six sacks to one and Jenkins failed to replace Carriker’s five and a half sacks from 2011. No wonder the Redskins dropped from sixth in the NFL in sacks percentage to 28th.

“I did leave a lotta sacks out there,” Jenkins lamented. “They put me in a great position to get sacks. I should’ve capitalized on [that]. I’m going into this season not making that same mistake. Now that I’ve got a year under my belt … I’m able to play a lot faster.”

And stronger. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Jenkins has been working hard on the power of his legs.

“I worked hard to get my knee back,” said Jenkins said after a spring practice during which he recorded an interception. “Going through half the season, it was about confidence and knowing that I could plant off that foot. It was like, ‘OK. I’m good now. I can just play.’ If you have more lower body strength, you have more force on the ground to push off. That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason [as well as] getting off [blocks] and using my hands. If I’m aiming to start, I’ve gotta produce.”

Not that the Redskins were so disappointed with Jenkins’ production in 2012.

“As the season went on, Jarvis got a little comfortable and played a lot better, had a lot of confidence,” said Bowen, who joined with Carriker and nose tackle Barry Cofield to form a solid veteran trio in 2011.

Washington’s coaches credited Jenkins with 16 tackles during the final five games – all victories — compared to 21 during his first nine starts – 4-5 record.

Coach Mike Shanahan said that Jenkins “has made tremendous strides” since last season. Jim Haslett also likes what he sees from the only end the Redskins have drafted during his four years as their defensive coordinator.

“Jarvis understands the defense now,” Haslett said. “He’s got his feet under him. He’s got the brace off. You can just tell he feels a lot more comfortable. I think he’ll make a lot more plays this year than he did last year.”

Carriker might be back some time during camp, but that doesn’t mean that Jenkins will be returning to a reserve role.

“If Adam’s healthy, it will be a battle,” Bowen said.

Jenkins, like most athletes, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Adam’s working real hard to get back,” Jenkins said. “I know what he’s going through because I went through the same thing. Even though he’s hurt, he’s still helping me a lot in the film room. Competition makes everybody better.”

Having two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo – who missed the final 14 games of last year with a torn pectoral — back healthy as would Carriker and safety Brandon Meriweather — who played in just one game in 2012 because of a series of knee injuries — will certainly make Washington’s defense better, but so will a better Jenkins.

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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin


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