Janoris Jenkins likes to go by his nickname: Jackrabbit. He got it when he was a child in Florida and would spend his time and demonstrate his athleticism by chasing rabbits.
After one game with the Giants, though, he might be ready for a new moniker: Shutdown corner.
That wasn’t necessarily his reputation during his career with the Rams, but after the Giants held Dez Bryant to one catch on five targets for eight yards in the opener, thanks mostly to Jenkins’ coverage of the Pro Bowl receiver, it very well might be his new identity.
Asked if that was indicative of what he brings to the Giants this year as a free agent, Jenkins said it does.
“It demonstrates,” he said, “but at the end of the day, man, I’m just here to play football. I don’t get into all the talk. I’m just here to play within the scheme and do my job and do it to the best of my ability.”
With Darrelle Revis appearing to be on the downslope of his defensive back dominance, Jenkins could be the heir to ruling the Island.
“Man, I just consider myself a cornerback,” he said, eschewing terms such as “shutdown” or “lockdown” (despite the fact that his Twitter account name is @JjenkzLockdown). “I let you all do the rankings, I just play football. I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s about time I’m getting the recognition, but at the end of the day, I’m just here to play football.”
He is getting the recognition, and not just in the massive contract the Giants gave him during the offseason.
“Janoris Jenkins, man, he comes in and locks down Dez Bryant,” Giants safety Nat Berhe raved. “He had a catch in fire zone coverage for 8 yards and that was it for the whole night. Guys like that who contribute . . . the big-money guys are doing what they do.”
Even opponents are noticing.
“He did a great job against Dez last week,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “I played against him a few times in St. Louis. He was always a guy that we were aware of where he was.”
Is he in the conversation, though, when it comes to shutdown corners around the NFL?
“Yes,” Brees said. “The way he played against Dez, that was really impressive. I’ve seen him do that to other guys, too. It’s not like that was the first time.”
The good news for the Giants is that they haven’t necessarily had that type of player in a while. The better news is that they don’t necessarily need Jenkins to be that type of player.
They won’t always be asking him to take over an entire side of the field or shadow a player wherever he goes. That showed last week just as much as Jenkins’ abilities did.
“Dez Bryant is one of the best receivers in the league, we feel, and . . . Rabbit was on him a lot,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “We didn’t match him every snap, but there were packages in there where he did. There were times when they didn’t throw to him because he was covered, there were a number of times we doubled him. One of the things we said going in was ‘don’t let 88 wreck the game,’ and we accomplished that.”
They just won’t necessarily continue doing it in the same fashion.
“It’ll be game-by-game, what the threats are on the other side,” Spagnuolo said. “Our guys have worked so well together, all of them, that I think we can do some of those things and things can be interchangeable. We have that luxury right now.”
Against the Saints, that will be key.
“They have some options, but us, as the Giants’ defense and secondary, I feel like we have guys that can match up,” Jenkins said. “With guys like Eli Apple and DRC [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie], I feel like we have guys that could match up all the way around the board with anybody. As long as we play within the system or within the scheme, we could be special.”
There were other factors in his dominance in the opener, too. Dallas had a rookie starting at quarterback in Dak Prescott, and the game plan clearly limited the Cowboys from pushing the ball downfield. They wanted to dink and dunk with Dak.
This week, there’ll be no such confinement. Brees and the Saints will be a much more significant test. Just as last week’s Cowboys offensive line was the first big test for the newly revamped defensive front, this Saints game will be the first chance for the new secondary to prove its worth. “You always find out where you are when you’re facing guys like this, a guy who likes to throw it around at all times,” Jenkins said.
Against Dallas, Jenkins also got help from the rest of the defense. While Jenkins covered Bryant for the majority of the game, Rodgers-Cromartie broke up a pair of passes for him and safety Landon Collins knocked away a would-be touchdown in the end zone.
“I did what I had to do against Dez, my d-line did what it had to do, and so did my linebackers,” he said. “I feel like we all did it as a team. And it’s on to the next game.”
And another chance to earn a new nickname.