Jenkins: Injury or Attitude?

In his career at the University of Maryland, Kris 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 selected 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. It was Jenkins' rookie season. The Panthers went 1-15 under head coach George Seifert and defensive coordinator John Marshall. Jenkins started 11 games and played in all 16, registering 52 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries on the season. Morale was low; Seifert 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. Hurney and Fox thought so highly of Jenkins, they agreed to sign him to a 5-year, 35 million dollar contract in October of that year. Jenkins 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.

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, however. Jenkins 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 within 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 was becoming 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 over Carolina's director of security, Gene Brown. Brown was talking on his radio when Jenkins hit him in the legs and knocked him over, causing him to sustain cuts and scrapes on his legs, bruising and soreness. His 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 played against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football; the only time in the 2004 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 fell 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 then traveled to Kansas City to face Priest Holmes and the vaunted KC Offense . In the first half, Jenkins would injure his right shoulder; The same shoulder he had injured 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 continued to try to play with the injury for 2 more games, but was ineffective.

With Jenkins in the lineup, the Panthers allowed 165 yards rushing against the Falcons in week 4 of the season, and 210 yards on the ground to the Denver Broncos in week 5; 193 to Reuben Droughns alone. In those games, one 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.

In early October of last year, word leaked that Jenkins had been fined for being late to a team meeting, and that it wasn't the first time during the season it had happened. Was Jenkins taking football seriously, or had his fame gotten to his head? Having a healthy Kris Jenkins is not enough. He must also be motivated to produce. Was Jenkins motivated? Without Jenkins in the Lineup, the Panthers improved their defense and rallied to win 6 of the remaining 12 games in the season. With Jenkins, the Panthers were 1-3.

During mini camp in early May of this year, Jenkins showed up overweight and out of shape. With Summer School starting this week, will Jenkins show up with more motivation? Will 8-months away from football and competition fuel the fire to compete at a high level for him, or will the complacency be fortified, etched in stone in a millionaire's heart?

It's still too early to tell, but all the early indications are that Jenkins isn't too serious about the 2005 season, either.

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