Whether it’s on the practice field or during a game, on television or in person
That’s the obvious part, the part that everyone watching is privy to and that doesn’t require much in the way of a trained football eye to see.
But as Jenkins is settling into a rookie season that seems to just be gaining steam every week, it’s what you don’t see that leaves Rams teammates and coaches wondering just how high his ceiling is, that is if there even is one.
“I am very impressed with his football maturity,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “He loves the game. There’s a lot that goes into it. I think that has helped his development. But the first and foremost thing is that he wants to be good and he really, really works at his craft.”
Rare is the athlete that can consistently get past every level of a sport solely on physical ability. None seem to be able to realize their potential at the game’s highest level.
For Jenkins, the speed, the recovery skills, the instincts have long been in place but he’s enjoying early career success with the Rams because of all of those things combined with a voracious appetite for knowledge and information.
Through five games, Jenkins leads the Rams with nine passes defended, including a career high four against Arizona last week. He’s chipped in an interception, a quarterback hit that led to an interception for linebacker
That type of resume at this young stage of Jenkins’ career would be enough to surprise even the most optimistic of football evaluators but his work on the field and behind the scenes has left teammates impressed but not shocked.
“He’s such a talent that you know what you are going to get from him,” veteran corner
A typical in season day for Jenkins begins with an early wake up call and an arrival at ContinuityX Training Center for a 7:45 a.m. special teams meeting.
When that meeting wraps, Jenkins takes part in the morning team meeting and then heads into the position meetings where he sits in with defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil, assistant secondary coach Brandon Fisher and the rest of the defensive backs.
From there, Jenkins pulls out what he calls his “game sheets,” the pieces of paper on which he take meticulous notes based on the film of that week’s opponent.
Jenkins draws out every play, taking special care to note down and distance and tallying up how many times each play is run. When practice is through and the afternoon meetings conclude, Jenkins heads home to watch even more film on his team-issued iPad.
There, Jenkins studies the tendencies of specific receivers, looking for tells on the way guys might give away routes off the snap or searching for consistent routes they might run out of certain formations relative to down and distance.
“I just try to be a student of the game, learn what they do,” Jenkins said. “From the out routes on the top of the numbers, are they running slants when they go empty (backfield), just mental things to prepare for the game.”
By his own admission, Jenkins was like many top level athletes at the high school level. He didn’t do much in the way of film study or thorough preparation at Pahokee High in the area of Florida known as “The Muck.”
When Jenkins arrived at the University of Florida, he immediately followed the example set by cornerback Joe Haden. If Haden was watching film, Jenkins was likely right there with him.
“He first taught me when I got to Florida,” Jenkins said. “And I just carried it along.”
Upon arriving in St. Louis as a second round pick, No. 39 overall in this year’s draft, Jenkins quickly found a similar mentor in the form of Finnegan.
Finnegan quickly established himself as a team leader after signing with the Rams early in free agency. He’s been ever-present in providing guidance for Jenkins in every aspect of being a professional, even going so far as to listen in when Jenkins is doing media interviews to ensure he’s saying all the right things.
“Cortland Finnegan is a huge part I think of Jenks’ development also,” McGinnis said. “He’s got a visible model he can look at and see how to get ready to play corner in the National Football League.”
The scary thing for opposing quarterbacks and receivers is that Jenkins is really only scratching the surface of his potential. He’s been solid in his first five games but he’s also been hard on himself for missing some opportunities to make even more, bigger plays.
Much like his friend and fellow rookie
To Jenkins, just making an interception isn’t enough. He wants to make an interception and finish the play standing in the end zone.
Last week against Arizona, Jenkins read a pass from Kevin Kolb just right, jumped the route in front of wideout Larry Fitzgerald and seemed poised to snatch it and scoot into the end zone for a score. Before he could, Fitzgerald grabbed him by the facemask and pulled him down as Jenkins was unable to hang on.
After the game, Fitzgerald complimented Jenkins on his performance and told him to keep working hard.
In week 2 against Washington, Jenkins dropped tight end Fred Davis with a big hit and scooped up the ball and scored only to have the play blown dead and ruled an incompletion.
“I’m going to get it,” Jenkins said. “It’s just coming the right time, I’ll get it. It will be a crucial play in the game I feel I’m going to get it. I had several that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity but I will from here on out.”
Despite Finnegan’s mild protests, Jenkins will get even more chances to make big plays as he fills in for
Not that Finnegan doesn’t believe Jenkins can make big plays in the return game – he returned three for scores in his senior year at North Alabama in limited opportunities – but more that Finnegan doesn’t want to risk injury for his tag team partner.
“I would rather him not,” Finnegan said. “He’s such an asset but when he’s called on, he’s able to do so many things and he’s such a good punt returner. But anything for the team. If he’s back there, he’s got the capabilities to be a home run threat and that’s what we want.”
Jenkins, in his unending quest to make big plays, his familiar refrain, is looking forward to the chance as is coach Jeff Fisher.
"‘Jenks’ has run skills and he’s done a good job, I’m not concerned about it," Fisher said. "Danny’s done so much and is so comfortable with everything and gets it. He’s hard to replace but ‘Jenks’ is very explosive. We’ve seen what he can do with the ball in his hands and we just have to get it in his hands and give him some space.”
Jenkins is quick to remind that though he’s had a solid start to his career, there is still a long way to go. He still has the occasional habit of getting caught looking the backfield and making himself vulnerable to the deep ball. He was able to overcome that because of his athleticism at lower levels but won’t be able to in the NFL.
Should Jenkins continue to set the bar high and expect more of himself, it should only expedite his improvement.
“I feel like I have played OK,” Jenkins said. “I can play much better, getting more turnovers, knocking down more balls. I feel like I can improve a lot.”
That improvement doesn’t seem far off and when it comes, rest assured it will be hard earned.
“The level of dedication that he has as well, not just the love (of football),” Finnegan said. “He continues to put in the hours and the hard work and you see that showing on the field.”