New Raiders LB Jenkins learned how to be resilient during rough 2016

New Raiders LB Jenkins learned how to be resilient during rough 2016

Playing well in a contract year is imperative in the NFL. It gives a current employer reason to re-sign a player with a handsome deal, or makes other teams want to write checks in unrestricted free agency.

That didn’t happen for Jelani Jenkins. His body broke down at the wrong time. Miami’s two-year starting weakside linebacker dealt with ailments that kept him out of seven games in 2016, limiting him to 29 tackles in nine games and seven starts.

That’s a far cry from the 181 tackles recorded in two previous years as a mainstay in the Dolphins defense. The timing was poor for sure. Several teams were interested in Jenkins, but he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Raiders on Monday looking to recover from a rough year on the field.

“I would say that was one of the most frustrating years in my life, especially regarding my career,” Jenkins said. “It just kind of taught me how to be resilient, not get my head down but just keep working, keep trying to get back out there on the field and helping the team as much as I could. But, that definitely taught me to just be resilient and I definitely got a chance to learn my body more and more and what it can take, what it can’t take, when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to keep going. All of that definitely helped.”

Jenkins is expected to play weakside linebacker in silver and black and replace Malcolm Smith, who signed with the 49ers this offseason. That position bears a heavy burden as a primary tackler against the run and a coverage option against receiving running backs and tight ends.

“It’s something I’ve had to do even since my time in college,” the University of Florida alum said. “It’s something that they asked me to do. I’ve been on teams with a lot of great tight ends and running backs. So I’ve had to cover them every day in practice. I think that helps.”

Jenkins is excited to contribute to a team on the rise, and hopes to capitalize on a year as a major contributor on the Raiders defense.

“It’s definitely a team that’s getting better and better every year,” Jenkins said. “They have a defense with a lot of talent on it. They play fast. They play hard. They play tough. They play with a lot of energy. You can tell by looking at film that they have a lot of fun. That’s something that I pride myself on, is energy and just enjoying the game. It seemed like a great fit.”

Raiders ink free agent linebacker Jenkins

Raiders ink free agent linebacker Jenkins

The Raiders needed help at linebacker and got some by signing unrestricted free agent Jelani Jenkins. The team announced the pact on Monday afternoon, after he visited the team facility.

Jenkins should fill a need at weakside linebacker, one created when incumbent Malcolm Smith signed with the 49ers.

Jenkins is the presumed starter at this point, playing a position without depth. It shouldn’t deter the Raiders from addressing this position in the NFL draft should a valued player be available at the right time.

Signing Jenkins comes a few days after Buffalo weakside linebacker Zach Brown visited the Raiders complex and left without a contract.

The Raiders still have a vacancy at middle linebacker, with Cory James and Ben Heeney expected to play backup roles. Last year’s starter Perry Riley remains on the open market.

Jenkins adds some playmaking capability and a recent injury history to the depth chart on the weakside, a spot where coverage ability is paramount.

The 25 year old is an athletic defender with upside limited to nine games and seven starts last season due to injury. He hasn’t played a full season yet, but was a full-time starter in 2014 and 2015. His best year came in 2014, when he had 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Jenkins is the first defender signed this offseason.

Report: LB Jelani Jenkins to visit Raiders this week

Report: LB Jelani Jenkins to visit Raiders this week

The Raiders remain in need of interior linebacker help.

General manager Reggie McKenzie will continue trying to fill two key linebacker spots this week, when he brings Jelani Jenkins in for a visit.

ESPN reported the news on Monday morning.

They hoped to sign former Buffalo Bill Zach Brown during his visit to the team complex, but the weakside linebacker left without a contract.

They hope to bring Perry Riley back in the middle, but he remains on the open market.

Jenkins, who just turned 25 years old, played just nine games last year with Miami due to knee issues. He was a full-time starter the two previous seasons. His best year came in 2014, when he had 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Jenkins has primarily played weakside linebacker in his career.