WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — John Jenkins is still motivated by how his season went last year.
He was coming off a pectoral injury — the first serious ailment of his career — but he felt his performance, as a whole, was too inconsistent. He didn’t accomplish what he wanted to accomplish. He felt he should have had more sacks, stuffed more runs, and been more disruptive.
So, after showing up to organized team activities and minicamp, and still not feeling like he was where he wanted to be physically, he went on a diet and dropped 35 pounds. He’s weighing in at 328 pounds now and believes he’s at a weight that will help him play better and stay healthier.
“I just felt like, after talking to a lot of veteran guys and ones that have been there, like Kevin Williams and (Brodrick Bunkley), if you lose weight, you feel great about yourself, you’re going to play a lot longer, and it’s healthier,” Jenkins said. “Playing smaller is healthier.”
There have been adjustments. The good thing is that they’ve all been positive. The biggest difference is Jenkins can feel himself getting off the line quicker and moving faster around blocks, which, he says, requires some adjustment. He does not, however, feel like he’s sacrificed any strength or that filling gaps in the run game will be an issue. As he pointed out, he’s still not exactly svelte.
The defensive tackle’s hope is that the loss in weight will help him get after quarterbacks more often and play more consistently. Jenkins played 398 snaps last season and recorded only 11 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. He did, however, finish with 22 run stuffs. He wants more.
“For me personally, I felt like I needed to be more of an impact in the running game. I thrive on stopping the run,” Jenkins said. “That’s what I love, I enjoy doing it. So me personally, I feel like I need to be more of a factor in that part of the game.”
Jenkins is doing what he can to get there and achieve more consistency. He feels himself getting better in camp, and one of the main reasons is how often he’s going against center Max Unger.
While Jenkins had decent competition in Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin at center last season, Unger, who was acquired from Seattle as part of the trade for Jimmy Graham, is an All-Pro talent. After practice reps, Jenkins often seeks Unger’s advice on how to improve.
“That helps a lot. A guy like him, he’s a true pro, so everything he does, I try to learn from him and ask him what I didn’t do so I can use them,” Jenkins said. “If we’re going to compete, we’re going to go hard, but if I can get tips from him and take it to the game, then it’ll help me in the long run.”
The Saints are going to need Jenkins to play big this season, even if he’s a little smaller. With Bunkley and Glenn Foster gone, he’s going to be one of the men in the middle, asked to push the pocket and cause havoc.
He admits that seeing Bunkley get released hurt him. The two were close and developed a strong bond over the years. But it’s his time to step up, and Jenkins is looking to take the next step in his development.
“I mean, to be honest with you, I think every year I try to make a big stride,” he said. “The only way you feel comfortable with where you’re at is when you become an All-Pro guy or a Pro Bowler or start getting accolades like that. Until then, you’re always trying to strive for something greater.”