Injury or Effort

Kris Jenkins played injured the last two weeks against the Falcons and the Broncos... could that be the reason why they lost?

Kristopher Rudy-Charles Jenkins is a talented young man who the Panthers scouting department thought that their coaching staff would be able to bring the best out of. In his career at the University of Maryland, Jenkins was considered an underachiever because he possessed great physical tools, but had not learned how to utilize them. He would show flashes of ability, but largely left his talent untapped. The Panthers would then select him in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft, hoping that they could bring his unrealized talent to light. Jenkins didn't lack anything physically, but the staff wondered if he would be able to focus and perform at the NFL level.

2001 was a season to forget. In Jenkins' rookie season, the Panthers would go 1-15 under head coach George Seifert and defensive coordinator John Marshall. Jenkins would start 11 games and play in all 16, registering 52 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries on the season. Morale was low; Seifert has lost the team and was fired after the final game of the season.

Enter John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Mike Trgovac.

Fox brought a more aggressive scheme and attitude to the team, and more specifically to the defense. The Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the #2 pick in the 2002 draft; a move that would prove beneficial to Jenkins. With Peppers taking up most of the other teams' attention, Jenkins would start to shine and get national attention.

The spotlight seemingly came naturally to Jenkins, who has a care-free, jovial and easy-going attitude. It seemed as though the Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac had finally turned the light on for Jenkins. The Panthers would finish with the second ranked defense in the NFL in 2002, largely because of their defensive line.

2003 was the year of destiny. In the preseason, Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner proclaimed that Jenkins was the best defensive tackle in the NFL; even better than rival defensive tackle Warren Sapp of Tampa Bay. Carolina would prove Buckner right, as the Panthers swept Tampa during the season and ultimately made it to the Super Bowl. Jenkins reached All-Pro status and was widely regarded as the best defensive tackle in the NFL, just as Buckner had said during training camp.

More and more articles were written applauding Jenkins' talent and anointing the Panthers defensive line as the best in Pro Football. Mike Trgovac had taken over as defensive coordinator after Del Rio moved on to be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Sal Sunseri had slid into Trgovac's vacated position as defensive line coach. It was Sunseri who would be responsible for the upkeep and continued development of the youngsters on the defensive line.

The fans would start to see a different side to Jenkins in 2004. Kris was becoming more and more rude to the fans and the media. He would not only refuse to sign autographs, but at times would even berate them for trying. He would later blame it on people selling autographed items on Ebay, but the way he went about it was disrespectful and rude – even to children seeking his autograph. Stories would surface on internet message boards and circles of friends, about how Jenkins would not only deny a fan's request, but to insult them and try to embarrass them at the same time. The very people that pay Jenkins' salary were being spat upon by one of their heroes.

Jenkins would start to be more and more troublesome to the Panthers as well. As he joked around after one training camp practice, Jenkins commandeered an EZ-go cart and nearly seriously injured a member of the Panthers Staff as he nonchalantly ran the man over. Carolina's director of security, Gene Brown, was talking on his radio when Jenkins hit his legs and knocked him over. Brown sustained cuts and scrapes on his legs, bruising and soreness. Brown's legs were wrapped in ice most of the afternoon. Jenkins would decline to talk to the media, although he did apologize to Brown afterward.

In the first game of the 2004 season, the Panthers would play against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football; the only time in the 2003 season. What had been a dominant defense for the last 2 previous seasons had allowed Green Bay's Ahman Green to gain 119 yards rushing as Carolina would fall in the season opener. Green Bay's offensive line opened gigantic holes for Green to run through as they man-handled the Panthers front 4.

The next week, the Panthers would then travel to Kansas City to face the vaunted KC Offense and Priest Holmes. In the first half, Jenkins would injure his right shoulder; an injury he first sustained in college. It would later be revealed that Jenkins had torn his right shoulder labrum – the cartilage ridge that helps keep the arm in place. Jenkins would continue to try to play with the injury for 2 more games.

With Jenkins in the lineup, the Panthers would allow 165 yards rushing against the Falcons in week 4 of the season, and 210 yards on the ground to the Denver Broncos; 193 to Reuben Droughns alone. In those games, you could clearly see that Jenkins was not playing 100%. He was not getting his usual burst off the line of scrimmage and was being man-handled by the offensive line. If it was that obvious to the fans, why didn't the coaches notice it at the time and do something about it?

Last week, it was learned that Jenkins had been fined for being late to a team meeting, and rumor had it that it wasn't the first time this season it had happened. Was Jenkins taking 2004 seriously, or had his fame gotten to his head? Having a healthy Kris Jenkins is not enough. Jenkins must also be motivated to produce. Was Jenkins motivated? Was his nonchalant attitude rubbing off on the impressionable Julius Peppers, who had also been accused of slacking-off during the first few games of the season. With Jenkins out of the lineup, players like Kindall Moorehead, Omari Jordan, Damane Duckett and Jordan Carstens will get more playing time and will have more fire and passion than a healthy Jenkins displayed as of late. At Philadelphia this week, an injured Jenkins will not be pushed around and allow the opposing teams to run at will.

Most importantly, it will force Jenkins to both watch, reflect and work hard to rehab from his shoulder surgery. Hopefully he will return in 2005 with the passion he had in 2002 when he was on a quest to prove himself.


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