It was strange seeing the Eagles take the field for practice and not see a No. 27 flying around on defense. One would think it would be even stranger for a young group of defensive backs that at times leans on Malcolm Jenkins for guidance.
But while Andrew Sendejo and Tre Sullivan may have been the first-team safeties on Tuesday, it was business as usual for the remaining members of the Eagles’ secondary at OTAs – even if it’s not business as usual for Jenkins right now.
“I would say no,” said Sullivan, responding to whether the defensive backs room is any different without Jenkins. “The only reason I say that is because Malcolm, he does a great job being a leader, really just making us focus on every task at hand.
“It’s the same thing without him being in the locker room.”
Jenkins is a no-show at voluntary workouts so far, purportedly in pursuit of a pay raise. The three-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game in his five seasons with the Eagles. Prior to April, he had barely taken so much as a snap off during that span, much less skipped or been held out of a practice or meeting.
As much time as Jenkins has spent making plays that bring Lincoln Financial Field to a roar, he’s spent more setting an example for players in the locker room. He’s tutored young defensive backs, demonstrated how to handle success and failure in the NFL, been an outstanding citizen away from the field.
The 31-year-old safety has been the definition of a pro, and his actions appear to have rubbed off on teammates.
“Everybody holds each other accountable in that room no matter if we’re young or older,” said Avonte Maddox, reciting the line about accountability Jenkins has used often. “It doesn’t really matter.”
The DBs were putting in extra work after Tuesday’s practice and weren’t easy to track down in the locker room. Those who did speak didn’t sound your typical 25-year-old athletes with three-and-a-half seasons in the league – the average age and experience level of the group sans Jenkins.
Just another day at the office. They sounded like leaders themselves.
“It’s been kind of the same,” said Cre’Von LeBlanc. “We just have to keep focusing on what we can focus on today, the plays, we tell everybody who’s here. I wouldn’t say that it’s any different. The guys are the guys once the day is over.”
The room is not completely devoid of veterans, either. Sendejo, though he just arrived in free agency, is 31 with eight years NFL experience. And Rodney McLeod, who will likely start alongside Jenkins at safety, is rehabbing from injury and not practicing but is in the building.
Still, you can see Jenkins’ fingerprints all over this secondary. You could see it when a struggling, injury-depleted unit with Jenkins as its sole survivor turned its season around and became a strength of the team in 2018. You can hear it while speaking to younger players who sound wise beyond their years.
Without a doubt, Jenkins is far more valuable than what he brings to the Eagles defense as a multi-dimensional weapon that lines up at safety, cornerback, linebacker, wherever is asked – and he’s pretty good at all those things, too.
“When he is back, he makes his presence known,” Sullivan said. “Malcolm is a very vocal guy and outstanding leader. He’s a great guy to lean on.”
Right now, there’s no talk Jenkins might not return, or the Eagles might not reward him. Everybody seems to expect him back eventually, probably a little richer.
Then again, Jenkins has his troops trained so well and on such an even keel, it would be difficult to tell if there was a pang of concern.
“The room’s still the same,” said Maddox. “Still have energy, still holding each other accountable.
“Guys are still working together, laughing, playing around, so when it comes down to it, it will be great when he gets back in there and we’ll be able to have ‘Old Head’ in there.”
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