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New Orleans Saints counting on Jackrabbit to be a play-maker at cornerback

'They understand what I can bring to the table as a football player'

Janoris Jenkins #20
Janoris Jenkins #20

Maybe, as the New Orleans Saints entered the offseason, there was a twinge of uncertainty as to whether the organization would commit to cornerback Janoris Jenkins for the 2020 season.

There was no such trepidation for Jackrabbit.

Jenkins – he earned the nickname "Jackrabbit" during his college career at the University of Florida – knew New Orleans was the place for him just 20 days after the Saints claimed him off waivers Dec. 16.

New Orleans didn't win its NFC Wildcard playoff game against Minnesota in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that day, but the organization had won over Jackrabbit.

"The atmosphere," Jenkins said. "The coaches. The vibe. Before the game even started, I had a whole different mind-set just coming out of the tunnel.

"It's jet black, all you see is cameras flashing. The first thing in my head was, 'Man, I should have been here from the start.' It doesn't always plan out how you want it to pan out. But I'm there and I was like, as soon as I ran out of the tunnel, I told myself, 'I belong here.'

"It was the atmosphere, the fans. Just everything. I just felt so excited, as far as being with a winning program. All that played a nice part in it. I felt like I was at home. I was ready."

Jenkins was as ready as any Saint defensive player against the Vikings; he forced a fumble (recovered by then-teammate Vonn Bell), posted half a sack and had eight tackles. In two regular-season games with New Orleans, he had an interception, two passes defensed and seven tackles.

For the Giants last season, in 13 games before he was waived, Jenkins had four interceptions, and 14 passes defensed. He proved to be a play-maker in 113 career games with the Rams and Giants: 22 interceptions, 105 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and two sacks.

The Saints anticipate that level of play-making for a corner that New Orleans intends to let loose in press coverage. Jenkins signed a two-year contract extension this offseason.

"It felt like they want me around," Jenkins said. "They want me to be a part of their organization. They understand what I can bring to the table as a football player, as a play-maker. And I just really appreciate them giving me another chance."

"I did a high-level study on Janoris just over his career, and when you think about it, when he first got into this league, he came in as one of the better corners in this league," Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn said. "He was a really good press corner earlier in his career, made a lot of plays on the ball.

"And then as his career started to develop, he started to have this knack of being an off corner, and being able to anticipate and see the quarterback and be able to make plays on the ball. But that didn't take away his ability to play press coverage and I think that's one of the things that really can be tapped into. He actually hasn't had a chance to do as much when he was with the Giants, and that's what we do – we're a press team, we want those guys to be able to go up there and challenge.

"I want to be able to tap into that and allow him to do what he came into the league being a really good player at. Plus, also, being able to use those off skills that he developed in his career. I'm excited to have the player. I'm excited to be able to have an offseason like we've been doing with this player, I'm excited to have this player in training camp going into the whole season."

Jenkins is no less excited, especially with the prospect of doing what he does best.

"Playing man-to-man for me is just letting me know that I have a responsibility to do, I've got to do it to the best of my ability," he said. "Because I know if my man catches the ball, it's on me. I can't blame nobody but me.

"I don't mind playing zone, I'll play zone – just throw it in every now and then. But I prefer man-to-man because if they blame me, blame me for man-to-man coverage. I just like to follow my man from the locker room to the bathroom if I have to."

Jenkins, born and raised in Pahokee, Fla., hopes to give New Orleans another standout defensive player from "The Muck."

Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson, the Saints' all-time leader in sacks and forced fumbles, also is a Pahokee native.

"Growing up in high school playing football, he always came around, he always talked to me," Jenkins said of Jackson. "Matter of fact, he called me right before the playoff game. Even before I got there, when they said they were going to sign me (after Jenkins was waived), he told me it was a good organization, that I would love it there."

Jackson wasn't wrong.

Jenkins needed all of 20 days to learn that he loves playing in New Orleans.

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