NEW ORLEANS — Malcolm Jenkins said he embraced the Saints’ first-round selection of Kenny Vaccaro — despite the threat to his job security at free safety — after recalling Mark Ingram’s less-than-cordial welcome to the franchise by former teammate Reggie Bush.
Bush infamously tweeted, “It’s been fun New Orleans,” after the Saints picked Ingram 28th overall in 2011. Three months later, Bush, also a former No. 1 pick, indeed was out of the Crescent City — but not before he created an uncomfortable workplace, Jenkins said.
“It makes it an awkward situation in the locker room,” Jenkins said Saturday at a Lemonade Day Louisiana Kick-Off event outside of Stallings Playground.
Jenkins wanted to do better. So on the night of April 25, hours after Vaccaro was selected 15th overall, he took to Twitter to congratulate the rookie out of the University of Texas:
Ya’ll welcome @kennyvaccaro4 to the fam!! I think that was a solid pick! Lets get it ... Who Dat!!
“If you kind of look back at history, you see when we drafted Mark Ingram, how Reggie handled it ... it was kind of the opposite,” Jenkins said of his response to the first competition battle of his professional career.
Jenkins is confident enough in his own abilities to believe his future with the Saints will be based on his play, not the competition. Plus, Jenkins believes the Saints will field a better team, including a stronger defense, if they embrace competition at every position — even his. That’s why he’s eager to help Vaccaro, whom he likely will meet next week during the Saints’ rookie minicamp.
Before the draft, coach Sean Payton told Jenkins that one of the players the Saints were considering in the first round was a safety, giving him time to ponder how he would handle the challenge. While the Saints are eager to utilize Vaccaro, they also will spend the coming months figuring out where to place him on the field. That decision also will factor into Jenkins’ immediate future.
Payton likes that Vaccaro has shown the ability to defend slot receivers as a nickel back, as he often did against spread offenses in college. This past week, general manager Mickey Loomis addressed the possibility of having Jenkins, Vaccaro and strong safety Roman Harper on the field simultaneously.
“Before the draft, when we were talking about different scenarios,” Loomis said on WWL Radio, “one of the scenarios was that Malcolm could move into the nickel position because he has done that before and he does have good coverage skills.”
Jenkins said Saints teammates expected changes this season, especially on defense. While Payton was suspended for the 2012 season, the Saints endured one of the worst defensive campaigns in NFL history. The unit allowed 7,042 yards, surpassing the record of 6,793 held by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, and the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
In the midst of a horrid season, Jenkins enjoyed the most memorable play of the year when he sprinted across the field at Raymond James Stadium to chase down Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson after a 95-yard catch-and-run to the 1. Four goal-line stops later, the defense celebrated after its stand.
Jenkins finished the season with one interception and 95 tackles. Now the Saints are preparing to play for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, with Vaccaro as the most expensive new playmaker.
“I think I’m prepared for it,” said Jenkins, who reportedly is set to earn $2.4 million in base salary during the final year of his rookie contract. The Saints selected him 14th overall in 2009 as a cornerback before he switched to free safety.
“In this profession, it’s going to come at some point in everyone’s career, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to make me better, it’s going to make me push myself and I think it’s going to make our team better.”
The Saints recently completed their third week of conditioning workouts. Starting with minicamp, Jenkins said Ryan will encompass many of the positives that the defense enjoyed under former coordinator Gregg Williams, who helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.
“It’s kind of what we know. That’s what we identify with, and a lot of it worked,” Jenkins said. “And he’s going to add a lot of his 3-4 concepts as well. So he’s going to do what our players do best and allow us to flourish in our strengths as opposed to trying to fit into his mode. I think that’s going to be good for us.”