Jenkins: The 'Old Man' Of The Secondary?

Not many people knew what to expect out of cornerback Malcolm Jenkins last year. But Jenkins surpassed many expectations by seeing plenty of playing time as a true freshman, including some time as a starter. Jenkins has a different role this season as early departures have made him into a leader in the secondary, despite being just a sophomore.

When Malcolm Jenkins signed with Ohio State in 2005, few expected the turn of events which would now leave him as ‘the old man' of the Buckeye secondary just one year later. Yet here we are – Jenkins has more starts than the rest of the secondary, sans Brandon Mitchell, combined.

"If you look at everybody coming back in the secondary, I have the most experience," Jenkins said. "It goes without saying that I have to take that leadership role."

Of course having the most experience is a relative term. Considering he and Mitchell are the only two Ohio State defensive backs on the entire roster who have started at some point in their career, it isn't saying much. While Mitchell (who is in a dogfight to maintain his spot at safety) has eight starts, Jenkins is sitting on just three at boundary corner.

That makes Ohio State fans and probably coaches (if they would admit it) more than a little nervous. Texas, Penn State, and Iowa all have fine athletes and/or quarterbacks to deliver them the football. Escaping September with an unblemished mark and a secondary as green as Ireland in spring will be no easy feat.

"I have a positive outlook on it," said Jenkins. "I think we're going to be just fine. We have a lot of people who are hungry, and we have a lot of competition which is working for us to get spots. So, whoever is in there is going to be hungry, and we'll just see how good we are as the season progresses."

What about Texas, the elephant – or Longhorn – in the room?

He continued, "They have very talented wide receivers as we saw last year. We just try to prepare for that game as best as possible and come out and play our game."

What is that game exactly?

In a secondary without Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner, what should the Buckeye faithful expect?

"I'm pretty impressed with how we have improved during this camp. We started out a little bit shaky, but over the last week or so we've put everything together and done pretty well. It was just a matter of guys learning the schemes and getting that knowledge for the game. We've put in a lot of work and we're starting to come along and make plays."

The problem is, this is easier said than done. Ohio State hasn't had a secondary this green at any point in head coach Jim Tressel's tenure.

Ahmed Plummer, who recently joined the Ohio State staff after a successful stint in the NFL, knows these young greenhorns will need every bit of help and then some to overcome deficiencies in experience and meaningful repetitions. He has already been dropping hints to the current crop of defensive backs.

Said Jenkins, "He hasn't actually coached us, but he has given us little tips here and there given us a lot of motivational stuff to get us going and give us, since we're so young, to help us along with learning."

When Plummer speaks, it is like E.F. Hutton, the secondary players are all ears.

"You listen a lot because you know he knows everything," Jenkins said. "You know he has the experience. He's been to where we're all trying to get. Everything he gives us we listen to – we listen to him deeply. You know that everything he's telling you is for your own good to help you out so you always take into consideration what he's saying."

Still, Plummer's eligibility has long been exhausted, and with Donte Whitner and Ashton Youboty both opting to enter the draft early, it has left the Buckeyes in a hole. One might even say the hole is deep enough to merit a canyon. Fans were upset by the early departures but not their teammates.

"During the season, we knew Donte (Whitner) was leaving," Jenkins recalled. "I was hosting a recruit and Ashton called me. I was the first one he told he was leaving. I just told him it was his decision and I wished him good luck. He said if I needed anything to just call him."

There was no panic.

"I thought about it like I guess that just leaves me to take over and take control of the secondary," Jenkins said.

According to him, the greatest challenge for this year's unit is simply "knowing the defensive scheme and knowing what you're doing as well as what everybody else is doing - the safeties and the linebackers. That helps you out with everything."

In order to expedite this process Ohio State defensive coaches have changed the way they conduct their meetings this season.

"Last year, we were like separate units," Jenkins explained. "This year, with all of our film studies, we do those together. With drills, most of the time, we're together. The secondary is real close this year. I think it gives us a better chemistry as a secondary, rather than just being corners and safeties. We know what everybody is doing and you're comfortable with who's next to you."

Nor is it hurting their development to go against arguably the top receiver corps in all of college football.

"We have some of the best receivers in the nation so practicing against the best everyday is going to do nothing but get you better," Jenkins said.

The question is – will they be good enough by September 9 or September 30? What about November 18th?

The only way to find out is to hurry up and wait.

"We're confident in ourselves and we know with hard work and dedicating
ourselves to this goal, we can be just as good as last year," Jenkins said.

Confidence, in a pressure position like the defensive secondary, is often half the battle.

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