Safety Rayshawn Jenkins was the Chargers’ first pick on the third day of the 2017 draft while defensive end Isaac Rochell was the team’s last.
As the Bolts prepare for an important Week 17 clash with the Raiders in which a win could send them to the postseason, with Adrian Phillips and Corey Liuget’s status in question, each rookie could play a bigger role than they have all year.
A fourth-round pick out of Miami, Jenkins has played the second-most special teams snaps for the Bolts this season with exactly 300. However, he has been on the field on just 64 defensive snaps, which is six percent of all snaps this season.
So, is Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley confident turning to Jenkins should AP be sidelined?
“Yeah,” he said matter-of-factly. “Rayshawn, it’s a little bit like Desmond King. Desmond King right away, I think we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to protect this a little bit as he’s learning the system.’ And then as the season’s gone on, we can put more and more on his plate. I think Rayshawn hasn’t had as much playing time in those situations, but our feelings toward Rayshawn are the same. I think with more and more playing time, he’s going to end up being a pretty good player. We’ll see where he’s at.”
Jenkins is excited to finally show the world where he’s at as well.
“Can’t wait,” he said. “It was frustrating because if you’re a competitive person, you just naturally want to play. Of course I was upset not to be out there, but at the same time, I’m a team player. If we’re winning, I’m not getting mad. I understand that’s how it goes sometimes as a rookie. But yeah, I’m excited (to show what I can do).”
The Bolts selected the safety after a strong season at Miami in which he posted 76 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven passes defensed. However, like most rookies, he explained it was a whirlwind getting acclimated to life in the NFL. In fact, Jenkins candidly said he considered himself a totally different player than the one who joined the team in late April.
“This year has been about growth. Gaining experience from the older guys and learning my part. I’m ready. You’ve got to be ready. I’m a totally different player than I was when I got here. I’ve learned so much since I got here. That’s a long time in terms of football years. I’ve definitely done a lot of growing. I’m definitely ready.”
Bradley’s unit found its groove in Week 5 when they unleashed the three-safety look as their primary defense. Should Jenkins be called upon if Phillips can’t play, he knows the team can’t afford a dip in production from the position.
“This is how players get their chance,” he said. “Players are going to get nicks and bruises, so it’s next man up mentality. You have to be just as good if not better than the guy you’re replacing.”
Meanwhile, Rochell was waived and subsequently placed on waivers following the first game of the season. After being recently promoted to the active roster, he was pressed into action last week against the Jets, playing 24 of 65 snaps. His play certainly impressed Bradley, who hinted the Notre Dame product may be active regardless of Liuget’s status.
“(He was) good, just like we thought,” he said. “Here’s what he gives us. He gives us some length inside, especially in third down situations. Right now, we’ve got a length with our inside pass rush. He brought that. His length helped us out a little bit. I think that’s intriguing for us. If he can continue to build on that and be that inside rusher that provides some length, that’s a good thing…He’s a little bit unique because his size and his length are more like a left end. A traditional left end. Some guys, you move inside and see how they are. Jason Jones. Maybe not as tall. He’s not as tall as he is. He’s probably a little bit thicker. Not like Red (Bryant) though. Gives you a little more juice, I think, as a pass rusher.”
Rochell didn’t bother to hide his disappointment having spent most of the season on the practice squad since being waived after Week 1. However, like Jenkins, he believes he’s improved drastically in recent months.
“I mean anytime you get a demotion just period in life, it’s frustrating,” he said. “But I think it was valuable. I think I got a lot better from Week 2 to Week 15, so there are a lot of positive takeaways. But no doubt, I was frustrated.”
The biggest way he improved was his hand technique. Beating opposing offensive linemen with your hands is of the utmost importance, and Rochell admitted that was a weakness in the past.
“I think just getting a lot better with my hands (was most important). Because you don’t wear pads, you have to become great with your hands. You can’t just be physical. I think that’s one thing that hurt me in college and early on. I just wasn’t as good with my hands, so that has been a big improvement. Hands are everything. If you can win with your hands, you can win the battles. And just shooting your hands quick and all that stuff. But there are guys in front of me and around me that are really good at what they do. And so it gives me a good example and a tangible thing to look at and say, ‘OK, that’s what I need to do.’”
With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Rochell recorded his first sack in his return to action. For Rochell, it further validated not only how far he’s come, but also what he’s capable of.
“Oh, it was wonderful,” he said. “It just felt good because it’s been such a long season. Just mentally for me (and) physically because I’ve been putting in a lot of work. So it just felt good."