Friday, April 2, 2010
Virginia's Jenkins embraces the London look
By Ted Miller
Virginia nose tackle Nick Jenkins used to look like an Al Groh player. He arrived at Virginia with a crew cut and a serious expression.
Now his look approximates an old-school hippie, albeit a 6-foot-3, 280 pound one. He has grown his hair out since he arrived in Charlottesville, and his hair has become his trademark and a source of amusement for his teammates.
The look seems a better fit for the Mike London administration, which is new-school loose in many ways.
The hope, of course, is that London's new, energetic style, which Jenkins repeatedly described as "110 miles per hour," will translate into more wins than the eight Groh produced over his final two seasons.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency that's never been here before," Jenkins said. "It's the first time I've seen it -- in the locker room, in the weight room, on the practice field, walking around campus. You can tell everybody is a lot more excited -- a lot more excited about playing."
Just as there are underlying reasons for many of the changes London is implementing, there's a deeper reason Jenkins, a junior, doesn't plan to cut his hair until he graduates. He intends to donate his lengthy locks to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss due to cancer or other problems.
Great cause. Good for him. But before he does that, he'd like to win a few games.
A change that London has implemented directly affects Jenkins: The Cavaliers are switching from Groh's 3-4 defense to a 4-3. What that means for Jenkins is less reading and reacting and more attacking, which you can imagine most defensive linemen prefer.
"It's a get-up-the-field, penetrating defense now rather than a two-gap playing on the line of scrimmage," he said. "It's a lot more fun for everybody. We're having a ball. It's something different but a lot of us played it in high school."
The line should be the strength of the defense, despite the loss of first-team All-ACC tackle Nate Collins. Three returning linemen, including Jenkins, started at least 10 games last year as well as two who started at least one game.
Of course, defense wasn't exactly the problem in 2009. Virginia -- gulp -- ranked 118th in the nation in total offense and 105th in scoring.
Jenkins said the offensive futility -- the Cavaliers scored more than 17 points just once (21 vs. Clemson) during the six-game losing streak that ended the season -- never caused a fracture in the locker room.
"There were days when the offense couldn't pull it together and there were days when the defense couldn't pull it together," he said. "But when everybody walks into the locker room we know we are trying to give our darnedest for everybody."
Jenkins isn't eager to look backwards anyway, particularly when asked what went wrong under Groh.
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you why things didn't work out," he said. "But that's in the past. It's clear to everybody that it didn't work out, but now it's time for change and the change is here. We're just embracing that and moving on."
Things are moving forward and the newness is appreciated.
"We're on whole new slate," he said. "That's what the coaches keep telling us."