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The Overlooked Safety Set to Play a Bigger Role

A highly-touted, versatile safety prospect considered one of the top at his position.

Odds are you immediately thought of Derwin James, right?

Well, the same could be said about Rayshawn Jenkins a year ago.

The Bolts were thrilled the Miami product was somehow on the board in the fourth round in 2017, selecting him with the 113th overall pick. Jenkins got his feet wet as a rookie, appearing in 15 games mostly on special teams.

Expect that to change in 2018 as Jenkins has been the starting free safety throughout OTAs. It remains to be seen whether that will still be the case come the start of the season, but one thing for sure is that the second-year player is primed to have a bigger role.

"I've had tremendous growth since last year, and the biggest part is that the game is slowing down mentally in my head," he said after a recent OTA. "My biggest thing last year was mental, and the game is slowing down."

When Jenkins did see the field in 2017 it was at strong safety backing up Jahleel Addae.

Still, he's not concerned at all about switching to free, even though he believes they are quite different.

"The biggest difference is that you've just got to be patient back there at free," he said. "Sometimes it can get boring because you don't get a lot of action at times, but it's a key part to the defense. We're the last line of defense. If something breaks, you've got to get (the ball carrier) on the ground. You've got to be able to go sideline to sideline. Strong is more of an in-your-face position because you're at the line of scrimmage. You're more in the action."

His new position also carries additional pressure as the eraser in a single-high safety system.

The added responsibility only serves to motivate the 24-year old.

Jenkins found out he was moving to free safety midway toward the end of Phase II of the offseason program.

It's a change he fully embraced.

"I'm excited for the for a fresh, new opportunity because that starting spot is up for grabs because Tre (Boston) isn't here this year," he noted. "I'm ready to make an impression at free safety, showcase my versatility and things will go from there."

Jenkins certainly has the pedigree to succeed.

The 6-2, 220-pound safety bounced back from an injury-shortened sophomore year to total 52 tackles, three picks and five passes defensed in 2015. As a senior, he earned third-team All-ACC honors after totaling 76 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defensed.

Thus, it's clear that Jenkins is somewhat of a forgotten man with the hoopla surrounding James. To his credit, that lack of notoriety doesn't bother him as he couldn't be happier to add the Bolts' first-round pick to the mix.

He insists the arrival of James won't affect his mindset one bit.

"D.J. is a very good player. He's coming in and catching onto the scheme really well. But, I do feel like me patrolling the back is very important as well as anyone else can. We have a lot of guys with huge skillsets back there. We have different types of playmakers."

Overall, Jenkins steadfastly believes he's the ideal fit to serve as the free safety in Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley's system.

"My speed and my range is going to show up there," he said. "I can go make a play anywhere on the field. That's going to show up big for me at free. I also have a great vertical (skillset). Those attributes at free safety are important."

Take a look at the best catches, drills, and smiles on Day 9 of OTAs.

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