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Jets' Jenkins comes to Mangini's defense

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Moments after vehemently defending

Eric Mangini's performance, Kris Jenkins broke one of his former coach's cardinal rules. He spoke about his injuries.

The 350-pound nose tackle yesterday revealed for the first time that he had physical problems, which help to explain his marked drop in production in the second half of the season.

"You want the honest truth?" Jenkins said. "Did I deal with some injuries that dealt with my hips? Yes, and my back. I missed the one game in San Diego because of my back. I had a herniated disc. And I had some issues with my hips."

And an issue with the Mangini firing, too. Although he said he does not harbor ill will toward the Jets, Jenkins was by far the most vocal player in defense of the coach.

"If you don't know [what] a great man looks like ... then look at him," he said of Mangini.

Saying Mangini was the reason he decided to join the Jets last offseason, Jenkins clearly took his dismissal hard.

"I had a great man for a coach and I had to watch him go," he said. "It's a little touchy right now."

Jenkins was particularly outspoken about the notion that Mangini may have lost the locker room, criticizing any teammates who questioned the coach.

"If anybody lost faith in Mangini, they might need to check themselves as far as their maturity is concerned, honestly," he said. "If you lose faith in a person who is trying to make sure your kids are eating, who is making sure you get an opportunity to live your dream and enjoy your passion and wants the best out of you, and you're upset because of that?"

Acquired from the Panthers for third- and fifth-round draft picks, Jenkins received a new five-year, $35-million contract, including about $20 million guaranteed. He made that look like a steal by leading one of the league's best run defenses in the season's first half.

But Jenkins said playing a new position took its toll on his body late in the season. "I need my hips," he said. "That's my game."

Meanwhile, the defense collapsed around him. In each of the final five games, the Jets' opponent ran for at least 100 yards. The Jets allowed only four 100-yard rushing games in the first 11 games.

If the Jets continue to use a 3-4 scheme, Jenkins believes he will be able to better prepare his body to hold up for 16 games.

"Everything starts with the core," he said. "I need to have my core in the best possible shape of conditioning. I wasn't aware of the little things that were necessary."

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