Jenkins Emerges As One Of Nation's Top CB's

Malcolm Jenkins already looks and plays like an NFL cornerback, so it's easy to forget he's still only 18 years old. Jenkins has four interceptions on the season and one national publication quoted a coach as saying Jenkins was the best corner in college football. We caught up with Jenkins for his reaction to such talk and more.

The Sporting News recently featured a quote from an anonymous college football coach calling Ohio State sophomore Malcolm Jenkins "the best cornerback in the country."

Ohio State fans are well aware of the talents that the 6-1, 202-pound Jenkins brings to the gridiron each Saturday. He played a lot as a true freshman in 2005 and has taken his game to the next level for the top-ranked Buckeyes this season.

But best in the country?

Maybe it's true. There is no doubt that Jenkins is the next NFL corner to come out of OSU – and he will most assuredly join Chris Gamble, Nate Clements, Ahmed Plummer, Antoine Winfield and Shawn Springs as first-round draft picks. (But he's a year and a half away from worrying about such matters.)

Jenkins has proven to be a lockdown corner that is also very valuable in run support. He is tied for OSU's team lead in interceptions with four and is fifth on the team in tackles with 31 (23 solo).

Basically, despite his age (won't be 19 until Dec. 20), Jenkins has emerged as the leader of one of the nation's surprise secondary units. Yes, fifth-year seniors Brandon Mitchell and Antonio Smith are also leaders enjoying solid seasons, but Jenkins is the star of the group and isn't afraid to be vocal with anyone.

But best in the country? We had to get his take on a comment like that.

"I don't know about that, but it's definitely a goal of mine," Jenkins said. "I want to be in that class, but I don't think I'm there yet. I feel like I can still get way better and do more things to help this team."

Jenkins heard the talk in the offseason that OSU's defense was a big question mark; the one thing that could prevent a national title run. But nine games into the season, OSU is No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (7.3 points per game) and No. 9 in total defense (261 yards per game).

Most everyone expected the Buckeyes' defensive line to be dominant, but with seven new starters in the back seven (Jenkins did start four games as a freshman) there were loud concerns about the linebackers and especially the defensive backs.

"As a secondary and the linebackers and as a defense we talked last spring that we could be as good as we wanted to be and all it was going to take was hard work," Jenkins said. "We worked really hard in the spring, really hard in the offseason, and we're still working hard. We expected to be this good. I know there was a lot of disrespect towards our secondary coming into the season and people not really having faith in us, but we knew it was on us and we knew in the spring that we had enough talent to be a great defense."

Jenkins was pleased that the "Silver Bullets" were able to get their first shutout since 2003 in the 44-0 drubbing of Minnesota last Saturday.

"It's always a goal for this defense," Jenkins said. "Our offense is always putting up big points and for us to go out and shutout a team, we're excited about it. I hope there's more.

"We came close last week and the week before that. It's great to finally get one – I heard it was the first one in three years. Minnesota put up a lot of yards against us last year and for us to shut them down like we did, I think sends a message."

Jenkins especially likes hearing that the Buckeyes are best in the nation at keeping points off the board.

"As long as you keep them out of the end zone, they have no chance at winning," he said.

Jenkins did not want to allow a linebacker to lead OSU in interceptions all season. Sophomore MLB James Laurinaitis held the outright lead for most of the season, but Jenkins finally tied him against the Golden Gophers.

"We can't let Animal get too big of a head and get too cocky – he thought he was going to lead the nation there for a while," Jenkins joked. "No, that's the great thing about him is he doesn't care about that stuff. He just wants to win."

Jenkins, who hails from Piscataway, N.J., broke down his interception of Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito.

"The D-line got great pressure and the DB's had good coverage on the people he was trying to throw to, so he threw it high and it was right there in my hands."

And Jenkins did a little showboating after being tackled -- shooting a basketball-like jump shot with the football, a la the New York Giants defense.

"That's a team thing," Jenkins said with a smile. "As a defense we talked about it all week in practice. Just something funny; just having some fun out there. It's just something the Giants have been doing and we kind of picked it up."

Jenkins says OSU's defensive players do not make goals in terms of how many interceptions they want to get in a season.

"No, we just try and play hard and each game you want to get an interception, or some kind of turnover, or a big play," he said. "I don't even care about myself, I just want everybody to get interceptions and for our defense to force turnovers and keep points off the board. James has four, Yao (Antonio Smith) has two, Marcus (Freeman) has two and with so many guys getting them, that's great. I think that's one of the strong points of this defense is forcing turnovers."

Another strength is preventing big plays. Ohio State's coaches preach to the defensive backs to "stay deeper than the deepest" in certain coverages, but there is a fine line because the last thing they want to do is play too soft and give up easy yards.

"As corners, we want to stop the deep ball and keep everything in front of you and then come up and help underneath," Jenkins said. "That has been a big point of emphasis and I think it helps us create turnovers and prevent big plays – just keeping everything underneath."

Ohio State's offense was expected to be one of the best in the country this year, and it is. But with the defense also emerging as one of the nation's elite, the question begged to be asked: Which unit is better: OSU's offense, or OSU's defense?

"I mean, we beat them in the jersey scrimmage," Jenkins said with cool confidence. "But I don't know. That would be a good game to watch. We go against them every day in practice and I think we're pretty even."

Jenkins is well aware of the monumental matchup with No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18 in Columbus, but he says he says he and his teammates are not looking past Illinois and Northwestern.

"No. We know we need to take it one day at a time," he said. "In the Big Ten, anybody can beat you if you're not ready, so we're focused on everybody that we have to play and taking it one game at a time."

Jenkins muffed a punt against Minnesota which was recovered by the Gophers. So, is he ready to retire as a punt returner?

"Nah. Not at all," he said with a laugh.

Jenkins also talked about the progress of sophomore safety Jamario O'Neal who has been trust into a starting role with the season-ending injury to Anderson Russell.

"Jamario is definitely coming on," Jenkins said. "It's always a growing process and it's something I went through and I think Jamario is starting to learn his role and he's executing his assignments and he's making more plays. He made some big plays (against Minnesota) and I think he's just going to keep getting better and better."

Just like Jenkins has since arriving at OSU last year.

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