Jenkins could be a match in new mix-it-up defense Ravens hope rookie can bolster play of secondary

April 27, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

University of Tennessee cornerback DeRon Jenkins is supposed to be a perfect fit for the Baltimore Ravens' defensive scheme.

He plays a solid bump-and-run and is a great leaper. Jenkins is aggressive against the run, collecting 53 tackles last season. His former coach says he is an all-out hustler with soft hands and blazing quickness.

And hardly anyone in the Southeastern Conference could beat Jenkins one-on-one. Few teams even tried.

"He still has a lot of football ahead of him," said Kevin Ramsey, Tennessee's secondary coach. "He has all the tools that you want. Without a doubt, he can play in the NFL. There is no question he has the ability. He really hasn't been challenged a lot."

Jenkins will get tested a lot in the next three days as the Ravens opened a 14-day minicamp at their Owings Mills complex. One of seven players drafted by the Ravens, he's a second-round pick who is expected to push 11-year veteran Don Griffin for the starting position.

The Ravens thought so much of Jenkins that they traded their third, fourth and seventh picks to Denver to make Jenkins the 55th player selected overall.

"There's not that much pressure," said Jenkins, 5 feet 11, 180 pounds. "I just want to come in, learn the system, do the best that I can and make some kind of contribution.

"Actually, I've been training for this all my life," he said. "I think playing in the SEC helps. No doubt, they have a high level of good quarterbacks and I think the receivers in the conference are the best in the country."

The Ravens like his confidence and style. Since Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda hired defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis in February, the team has talked about a more aggressive approach.

They want to blitz more and become more disruptive on the defensive line. They also want to play more man-to-man instead of playing that soft double zone in the secondary that got burned for an average of 239 yards passing and was ranked second-worst in the AFC.

The Ravens want to have a cornerback who can match up with the Cincinnati Bengals' Carl Pickens, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Yancey Thigpen and the Houston Oilers' Haywood Jeffries, three of the bigger receivers in the conference.

"I think you're going to see more teams looking for the big receiver. We were looking for a guy who could match up with them," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' director of operations.

Tennessee played the bump-and-run, but Ramsey gave his cornerbacks the option of playing tight or laying off receivers.

That's another thing the Ravens liked about Jenkins: his intelligence.

"Our system at Tennessee was similar to the one we're going to use here," said Jenkins. "Our coach gave us some freedom to play. It's obvious on third-and-15, you're not going to play up close."

Jenkins has great recovery speed. He recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41, and long-jumped 22 feet, 9 1/4 inches.

He thrives being on the island: just him one-on-one with a receiver and everybody in the stadium watching.

"A lot of times I'm put in that situation 40 plays out of a game," said Jenkins. "I don't have a problem with that. I take it as a $$ challenge. That's one of the things I like most about playing the cornerback position."

Said strong safety Bennie Thompson: "As a defensive secondary, we're very aggressive and we like to go out and punish receivers. If he has that mentality, then I'm glad to have him here."

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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