The JackBoyz have earned plenty of respect for good reason.
After all, last year’s squad produced two Pro Bowlers (Derwin James, Adrian Phillips) and three All-Pros (James, Phillips, Desmond King). Meanwhile, the secondary also boasts one of the league’s elite shutdown corners in Casey Hayward, who has two Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections under his belt during his three years with the Bolts.
Add in highly-regarded second-round pick Nasir Adderley, up-and-coming cornerback Michael Davis and the return of Trevor Williams and you can see why the JackBoyz are all the rage.
Still, one safety is going way under looked, and he’s ready to change all that.
It’s time we talk more about Rayshawn Jenkins.
The third-year pro knows he’s been a forgotten man among some of the Chargers’ bigger names, and he admitted it bothers him at times.
“Yeah, it does, but I understand (why) because of the guys we have,” he explained. “But I feel like a lot of people overlook me. Fans are fans, and they get hyped over the big names and the draft process and everything, but people still come here and compete. You can’t forget we have competitors on the team, and I’m one. People always (flock) to superstars, but there are lots of people who make big time plays. And I’m embracing this year’s opportunity.”
As Jenkins alluded, after two seasons learning alongside some of the best in the game, the third-year safety knows he has his best opportunity yet to earn a consistent, more meaningful role on defense.
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While it’s a common mantra to always look ahead rather than looking back when it comes to a new season, in Jenkins’ case, it’s imperative to discuss what he did at the end of the 2018 campaign. After all, in the two biggest games of the year, the Chargers rolled with Jenkins as the team’s starting free safety during both postseason contests. Not only that, he appeared in all but one defensive snap.
Still, success is never guaranteed to roll over from season to season, which is something the 25-year-old Miami product clearly understands. Thus, fans will be happy to hear what Head Coach Anthony Lynn and Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley had to say about Jenkins, explaining how the safety used last year’s experience as a springboard for hopefully even greater things.
So far, so good.
“You saw Rayshawn’s growth last year on the scout team,” Lynn said. “I coached the heck out of that scout team, and Rayshawn was one of the stars. And now you see it on the field. I see him making better decisions. That’s been really impressive.”
“Rayshawn I think was a guy that really (the question was) what position was he was going to play,” added Bradley. “We looked at strong safety, and then we also looked at him as a linebacker. Maybe put on some weight and get up to 220, and him playing linebacker for us. And then toward the end of the year he played free safety. But what I think he’s done now, as he thinks that free safety opportunity is there for him, he’s dropped his weight. He’s under 200 pounds. He’s faster. I think he’s got a real good focus now where we want him to play, what we’re anticipating and what we’re hopeful that he does bring to the table. And I think he’s really bought into that. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles that in training camp as well. But he’s had good OTAs now. Good OTAs.”
Jenkins agrees with his coaches’ assessments.
“Things have slowed down a lot. I’m heading into this season more confident, especially getting those last few games under my belt with those starts. It’s helped me feel a lot more comfortable because you can watch all the film you want, and you can practice all you want, but there’s nothing like real game reps. Once you get those real game reps, and you actually get to feel how guys are trying to attack you and the speed of the game, then you know you’ve been out there before and done it before. You can get back to who (you are). And those weren’t just game reps. Those were some of the most high-pressure game reps (you can have).”
While he’s always been naturally gifted, he believes two years of seasoning combined with personal growth, and of course, opportunity, have him positioned to take that all-important next step.
In fact, if he didn’t take that approach, Jenkins may not be able to look himself in the mirror.
“If you’re not improving year to year, then what are you doing?” he said. “You’re always supposed to be improving some area of your game. I definitely feel I’ve been improving. I’ve lost some weight. I feel way more explosive.”
To do that, the safety is taking a singular focus each day he takes the field.
“I’m coming out here treating every day differently, but the same, if that makes sense. I’m coming out here focusing on that day, that play, and trying to live in that moment. This isn’t a new attitude, but a new opportunity (for a bigger role) has presented itself, and so you’ve got to come out here and change your mindset. And Coach Gus Bradley, he makes that much easier to do.”