Jenkins Striving To Be Great

Malcolm Jenkins has high expectations for himself. As a preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, the Ohio State senior captain is in line to be remembered as one of the best defensive backs to play for the Buckeyes. Such a reputation might not be enough for a player like Jenkins, however.

Malcolm Jenkins might stand up to a lot of expectations, but there is one set where he is not yet up to par.

That set of expectations is his own, and it is driving the Ohio State senior captain to continually strive to improve his game on the football field. As the team's designated shutdown cornerback, Jenkins is the lynchpin of the Buckeye secondary. He is also a four-year starter, a two-time first-team all-Big Ten member and a candidate to bring home this year's Jim Thorpe Award.

But despite his accolades and the fact that he had twice been named the team's defensive player of the week during the first half of the season, something was still missing for Jenkins.

Heading into the team's week-six showdown with Wisconsin, cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said both he and Jenkins felt that the captain had not yet put together a breakout game – a game where his performance was "all pluses and no minuses," as Johnson put it.

Flash-forward three games later and Jenkins is playing some of the most explosive football of his career. Against the Badgers, his interception helped seal a 20-17 OSU victory. Seven days later, Jenkins blocked a punt that resulted in his team's only touchdown against Purdue and added an acrobatic interception along the sideline as the Buckeyes defeated the Boilermakers by a 16-3 margin. One game later, his punishing hit on Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins jarred the ball loose, and it was Jenkins running as lead blocker while a teammate galloped 69 yards to the end zone in the rout.

Sounds like a breakout couple of weeks, right? Not just yet, according to the man himself.

"I think I'm headed in the right direction," he said. "Even I myself felt like I hadn't had a breakout game. I was playing good, playing well, making plays, but I hadn't had that game where people look at it and just say, ‘Wow.' I feel like I haven't had it yet, but I'll get there."

Asked to define what would qualify as a breakout game, Jenkins said he could not quantify it.

"I'll know when it happens, though," he said.

That demeanor is simply part of what makes Jenkins tick, part of what makes him the type of player he is. After entering OSU as a three-star safety prospect, he emerged as a true freshman and started three games. Head coach Jim Tressel praised his work ethic, noting that Jenkins did not want to have to wait to be a standout player.

He has started every game since his sophomore year began and turned down the NFL for one more year in the Scarlet and Gray. For a player like him, being good is simply not good enough.

"He has a passion that these younger guys feed off of – the passion to be a great player here," senior linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "He doesn't want to be remembered as one of the best – he wants to be remembered as the best. That's the way he is, and that's the way he's approached it. He shines with that kind of effort."

Senior teammate Nader Abdallah described the way Jenkins is playing right now as "an 11 out of 10."

When the team's defensive backs sit down in their meeting room, they can look up at the wall and see pictures of some of the all-time greats to come through the program. Jenkins said his goal is to find himself on that wall when his career is through.

Among the players he looks up to, Jenkins said he tries to compare himself to one: Antoine Winfield.

"If you watch the film, he stands out automatically no matter what it is," Jenkins said. "He's a smarter guy and he's real physical. He makes plays in the pass game and the run game. To me, he's the most complete corner to come through here and he's still making plays in the league now.

"Those are some hard shoes to fill. I don't think I'm there yet, but I'm trying."

There is one person who is convinced Jenkins is already one member of an exclusive club – his head coach.

"There's no question he'll be mentioned in the same breath as the greats – Chris Gamble, Shawn Springs, Nate Clements," Tressel said. "He's deservedly in that group."

Just being in the group is not enough for Jenkins, however. He has five games left to do something about it, but his recent play suggests he is on the right track.

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