Malcolm Jenkins knew he was rejoining a talented New Orleans Saints team.
Now that he has been on the field practicing with it, the two-time Super Bowl champion safety has a better understanding just how talented is that team.
"Honestly, stepping back into the Saints facility, the organization's been very nostalgic for me obviously, being the place I started at," said Jenkins, a Saint from 2009-13, who played for the Eagles from 2014-19, and won a Super Bowl with each franchise.
"But this is probably the most talented team I've been a part of since the 2017 Eagles team," Jenkins said. "And I tell everybody, when I stepped in, it was very apparent very early on, like, I don't understand how you guys haven't won a Super Bowl in the last three seasons.
"There is just that much talent on the roster. As a leader it is just looking at it like, 'Well, how do we not mess this up? How do we continue to keep guys engaged and motivated and constantly striving to compete and improve and grow?' I think that's the largest part is, how do we get over that hump? I know that's one of the roles that I was brought here to produce. So that's really what I'm focused on now."
Jenkins has seen the early signs of it. The Saints had their first padded practice Monday, then helmets and shoulder pads Wednesday, and back to full pads Thursday at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Each day, the defense has made several standout plays.
"Yeah, I think defensively we're really excited about the last few days that we've had," Jenkins said. "Guys have been playing very complementary, we've been getting around the ball a lot. The rush is complementing the coverage and vice versa.
"So I think there are some encouraging (signs), we're heading in the current direction, but obviously, a lot of time between now and Week One. The goal is just getting better every day, but I do think that how far we've come so far is where we want to be."
The height of the ceiling directly could correlate to how well starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris "Jackrabbit" Jenkins play. And Malcolm Jenkins said that Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins are as good a tandem as he has played with.
"Without knocking anybody I've played with, I don't think I've played with a tandem who are both as talented as Marshon and Janoris," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Janoris being a veteran who can run with anybody, can change direction and cover anybody, who I think is really motivated and hungry right now. To watch him just in practice against our receivers has been impressive.
"And then I think Marshon really can be the best corner in this league. It's just about consistency and really bringing that out of him, but he's been locked in and focused. I think he knows that everybody expects him to be the best on every single play, and so being able to have that talent on the outside as a safety lends to a lot of freedom and a lot of ability to manipulate a defense and make plays, so I'm very, very excited. Any time we get two corners like that as a safety and as a pass rusher, you get excited because there's more opportunity to make plays."
As much as Jenkins still has to offer on the field, his off-field work appears to have drawn most of the attention recently. Jenkins has been dedicated to pursuing social justice, and is a prominent member of the NFL's Players Coalition, among other notable contributions. There likely is an increasing audience that recognizes him more for his activism than for his football prowess (he's a three-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 2010 who has 17 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, 10 sacks and seven defensive touchdowns in his career).
That's fine, Jenkins said.
"If people know me more for what I do off the field than on the field, I think that's a win for my life," he said. "I'm much more concerned on the impact I have in this world than I am with the impact I have on the field – while the impact I have in the field is very important to me and it's what I love to do, I love this game and love playing it. (But) I'm actually very OK with me being known more for my contributions to society than to the game."
ALEX FLEX: Linebacker Alex Anzalone provided one of the highlight plays of Thursday's practice with a leaping interception of a Drew Brees pass. It resembled the kind of athleticism he showed while snagging an interception against the Rams in 2018, his lone regular-season pick. "I think he's doing well," Coach Sean Payton said. "I know he feels healthy. He looks strong, his weight's up, I like the way he's carrying his pads. He's had a good offseason relative to his rehab. He's worked with the first group, he's someone that has played a number of plays for us and knows what to do. So, I've been encouraged."
MAKING A NAME: Periods of practice are being used to simulate preseason game situations as much as possible. There hasn't been any live contact yet, but it's coming soon. "We're just needing to get a lot of these competitive periods, because they're going to have to – to some degree – take the place of some of the preseason snaps that young players have a chance to turn heads or make an impression," Payton said. "So every day, we're having periods with a live element to them that matter, because that's part of the evaluation. If you're a younger player trying to make a roster, somehow or another, you've got to make sure they know who your name is. So we've got to give them those opportunities and we've got to embrace that competition."