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John DeShazier: John Jenkins ready to step in and perform for Saints

His role should increase with Brodrick Bunkley on IR

John Jenkins has been in this position, so taking it on again isn't a significant ordeal.

The second-year nose tackle from Georgia started four of the first five games of his rookie season for the New Orleans Saints, when veteran Brodrick Bunkley was sidelined by a calf injury in the season opener and missed the next four games.

So now that Bunkley has been placed on injured reserve with a quadriceps injury – a move that was announced by Coach Sean Payton on Thursday – Jenkins again is ready to step in and perform, after having worked his way back from an offseason pectoral injury.

"It hurts me a lot," Jenkins said. "This is my second year in the league, he was my mentor, like a big brother to me. When Bunk went down, it hurt me a lot.

"(But) I just try to go out there, do the best that I can to help the team out."

His presence and performance are needed for a defense that significantly has slipped against the run in the last three games, when San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore have rushed for 144, 186 and 215 yards, respectively, in consecutive Saints home losses. The 49ers, Bengals and Ravens averaged 5.45 yards per carry in victory.

Jenkins helped the Saints (4-7 entering Sunday's road game against 7-4 Pittsburgh at Heinz Field) win their opening five games last season, when three opponents were held to less than 100 rushing yards.

"He was a real good contributor as a rookie," Payton said. "His weight was down, he's in shape, I think he's someone that stays on his feet. He's active. He had a setback in training camp, it took him a while before he was able to get back at it, but he's doing well right now.

"He was one of those young players that came in and acclimated himself real quickly, he comes from a good program at Georgia where they played good defense there. So I think the transition for him was pretty smooth."

The turbulence hit during the offseason, when Jenkins injured his pectoral. He couldn't do all the necessary things to stay in football shape, which forced him to play catch-up throughout training camp and into the early part of the season.

"It kept him out of practice. In his position, it's such a physical position where you're engaged every time you're on the field," Payton said. "You're wanting to make sure he has the strength and the power so it's not aggravated, and part of it is the football conditioning – the pads, carrying the weight, all of those things."

All of them appear to be improving as the season has progressed. After being inactive in three of the first four games, Jenkins has been up in the last seven and his snaps figure to increase with Bunkley on injured reserve.

"John is a stout nose tackle when he plays at his best, and that's what we have to get from him," defensive end Cam Jordan said.

Said Jenkins: "The workload is what it is. I'm just playing, trying to do my part to help the team out the best way I can.

"I feel great. As of right now, I feel like I'm great (conditioning-wise)."

It's a feeling, and a position, that he's familiar with.

Photos from New Orleans Saints practice on Thursday, November 27, 2014. Photos by Alex Restrepo. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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