After being used mostly as a deep safety for the past two years under both coordinators Gregg Williams and Steve Spagnuolo, Jenkins quickly pounced when the Saints switched coordinators again this year and hired Rob Ryan. The fifth-year veteran said he let Ryan know early on that he'd like to be used again as a nickel back, where he felt like he played his best football during his first two NFL seasons.
Things couldn't have turned out much better for Jenkins, since Ryan happens to be one of the most versatile defensive coaches in the game today. Not only was Ryan receptive to the idea, but he has used Jenkins all over the place -- in the slot, as a blitzer and as a shallow and deep safety.
Ryan seems to love versatile safeties, in general. He's used three of them on the field at once about 75 percent of the time this year. He has been using rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro in a similarly versatile role. And he'll do the same with veteran safety Roman Harper when he returns from a knee injury.
Ryan loves to keep opposing offenses off balance. And Jenkins loves that approach.
“I think I'm getting the most production I've had (in my career), probably because I'm playing a little bit more of a role this year and being able to play the nickel and get around the football a little more,” said Jenkins, who has 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception, 2 pass break-ups and 29 tackles.
“(Ryan) had enough faith to put me in (the nickel role) even though we had some pretty legitimate corners that could have slid in there,” said Jenkins, who was a standout cornerback at Ohio State before the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2009 and later converted him to safety. “He put me in there and allowed me to be more versatile and allowed me to use my skills in multiple different ways, and it has worked out for us.
“I'm having fun because I get kind of bored sitting in that post all day. I like to be near the line of scrimmage, be able to cover and still control the defense from a call standpoint. I think he likes that versatility. He's obviously used it to help the team.”
Longtime readers know that I've always been a huge Jenkins optimist. Although he was clearly too inconsistent over the past two years, he made as many big plays as anyone on the defense. And he has always stood out as one of those passionate players who strive to be “great.” He's a film junkie whom coaches love, and he's been elected a captain by his teammates each of the past two years.
Now he seems to have found a coordinator who is finding the best fit for him.
“He has good football instincts, and I think he has exceptional leadership skills and is doing very well,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He is someone that is important to what we are doing defensively and is having a very good season. You receive versatility with a player (like him). I was talking about (receiver) Marques Colston yesterday being able to play the X, the Y, the F in different personnel groupings. Malcolm has that ability on the defensive side of the ball.”
Ironically, Jenkins is thriving even after the Saints used their first-round draft pick on Vaccaro. At the time, it seemed like Vaccaro might be a threat to either Jenkins' or Harper's job security. Instead, they've helped each other by making it harder for opposing offenses to know what's coming.
“Having those type of guys that can play in multiple positions, one, gives us a great look for quarterbacks because they don't know who is who. And it allows us to be multiple,” Jenkins said. “And that's when we start having fun.”