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John DeShazier: England's Alex Jenkins playing long game with Saints

Posted Jun 27, 2017

Defensive end is part of new International Player Pathway program

Patience isn’t exactly Alex Jenkins’ strength, likely because it rarely has had to be.

But the defensive end already understands that he won’t play a regular-season down for the New Orleans Saints this season, no matter what he has done in minicamp, or will do in training camp and practice this year.

The short-game approach won’t work for him.

Instead, he’s part of an NFL roster twist this season for the four NFC South Division teams. The Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Buccaneers each will be able to carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the 2017 season as part of a new International Player Pathway program. Each team has been given an exemption for an 11th practice squad member – ineligible to be activated during the season – with three of the players selected coming from the UK and one from Germany. The NFC South was chosen to receive the international players in a random draw.

Jenkins, 24, was born and raised in Bath, England. He began playing football at the Bath City Academy and for the Bristol Aztecs, and earned a spot on the Great Britain youth team. After being chosen to participate in an all-star high school camp in Virginia, he earned a scholarship to play college football at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

At 6 feet 6, 270 pounds, he was a three-year starter as defensive end at UIW, and had 3.5 sacks in his senior year.

“It’s a mixture of frustration, but then, appreciation at the same time,” Jenkins said. “Because it gives me the chance to learn and really focus on development, but being a competitor, being an athlete, you play in this game, you want to play.

“Ever since I started playing this game, I’ve always been the top guy and I’ve always been the guy who’s in on all the first-team reps. So it’s an adjustment for me to be on the sideline and watching, but also it’s a blessing to be able to learn and develop and see where I can be next season, how I can contribute to this team next year.

“It’s the long game. It’s frustrating, but it’s also a massive blessing.”

Possibly, football also was the path of most resistance for Jenkins. There were other sports in which he dabbled, and could have pursued, and perhaps would have been just as successful in, if not more successful.

“Boxing was definitely an option,” he said. “And my dad is a martial arts teacher. It was definitely an option, but my Mom was (against) it. And I wanted to play a team sport. I’ve always played team sports so if nothing ever happened (with football), that would have been something further down the line.

“I never took (martial arts) officially, but every time I walked past my dad in the hallway he’d grab my hands and start chopping and start doing some sort of thing.”

Some of those hand drills have become applicable to football, Jenkins said. But that – and a few seasons at Incarnate Word – still couldn’t quite prepare him for what he encountered when he stepped on the field against NFL-caliber competition.

“The speed of the game,” he said. “I definitely took to it very well in college, I’m very coachable and all that. But the speed of the game, the speed of how quickly you have to learn things, the size of the playbook – those are definitely the things that I think are a lot different than college.

“Coming here, the first day, I had anxious feelings and stuff, like I want to get my first hit, I want to go against my first NFL offensive lineman. I did that. I won one of my first pass rushes with a spin (move), so as soon as you get that out of your system you feel good, like, ‘I know I can play at this level.’ “

Jenkins also grew up playing rugby. Former England star Alex Gray is the overseas player designated for the Falcons’ practice squad. The remaining designees are Eric Nzeocha (Tampa Bay) and Efe Obada (Carolina).

Jenkins said that football is more strenuous than is rugby.

“The games are very physically demanding,” Jenkins said. “But I would say football is probably an echelon higher, as far as physical stress and mental stress. They’re completely different games, but they do require some of the same things. But I would say football is mountains above what rugby is as far as the stress it has on your mind and your body.”

It will be unrelenting, even for someone who won’t be on the active roster this season, who is forced to be patient, who has to have long-game vision. But it will help, just a bit, that the Saints this season will play a game in London, against Miami at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 1.

"It has been a pretty intense time,” Jenkins said. “It feels too good to be true. I always thought I would be trying to do this on my own until NFL International found me. The fact that the Saints will be playing in London this season makes it even more exciting for me."

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