Think back to the days of Paul Soliai. He was the last true nose tackle that made an impact on the Miami Dolphins defensive line. His ability to take up space and disrupt rushing lanes is well-remembered. Since his departure, Miami has been searching for someone who can take up that role. The unsung hero doing the dirty work so others can shine. It seems, however, that the search is over, with veteran DT John Jenkins filling the void.
“John (Jenkins) has brought energy, enthusiasm.” Head coach Brian Flores said on Wednesday. “He’s one of those kind of unsung players that no one really knows about, talks about; but I would say our linebackers really enjoy having him in front of them because he takes up some space. He does a lot of the dirty work that – it’s those dirty (work) plays that if you get enough of those contributions from several different players and that’s how you get productive plays and string good plays together. He’s been a big part of, I would say, the improvement defensively. (He is) one of my favorite guys to be honest with you.”
The 30-year old Jenkins isn’t a big playmaker. Since his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Jenkins only has a total of 143 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Not exactly wow-worthy to say the least. But again, Jenkins isn’t meant to make plays. He helps others make plays. Considering the recent emergence of Ohio State alums Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, it seems Jenkins is doing his job well. McMillan has emerged as a premier run-stopping linebacker, and Baker is finding it much easier to both cover receiver and rush the passer through lanes opened by Jenkins’ raw strength and bulk.
And again, Jenkins doesn’t get much credit. When Baker, McMillan or any of the other linebackers jump in and make a flashy play, they receive praise. But that’s just part of the process, as linebacker coach Rob Leonard stated at the beginning of November. He wants the linebackers to take what they do and use as a sign of progress for their development.
“You have to make them see it. You have to make them see what you see in them to get the best version of themselves.” He said. “I’m always trying to paint that picture whether it’s film or just speaking to them as men because that’s where the confidence comes into play. Who you are as a person, who you are as a player – you’re always painting that vision of how I see them so they can fulfill their potential, but they have to believe it. It comes from them.”
That much is true. The linebackers have to perform. But it certainly helps when there’s a big body up front making their lives easier.
However, that doesn’t mean Jenkins is incapable of making plays of his own. Last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Jenkins chased down a running back from behind and brought him down for a loss. That’s not a simple feat for a man his size. Him being a veteran voice in an extremely young locker room just adds an extra bonus.
“He’s got a great energy, great enthusiasm, loves to play the game.” Flores said. “(He is) a guy we really like. We got him after the 53 cut. We were happy to get him. He’s been very productive, but his effort, his energy, his enthusiasm, his leadership – being one of the older guys in that room – that’s shown up in a big way for us and we’re happy to have him.”
So what of the future? As it stands, Jenkins is on a 1-year contract worth a mere $800,000, give or take a few. He’s played a little less than 45% of the snaps on defense this season for Miami. Those few snaps, however, have had an undeniable impact. The 2020 offseason is going to be an eventful one for the Dolphins, but some of the talent on the 2019 roster may just stick around. John Jenkins should be a key candidate for retention.
Every team needs that one guy who opens up the way for the rest of the defense. Jenkins may be just what Miami needs, both now and later, to turn the Dolphins defense back into the juggernaut it once was.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung