As a youngster growing up not far from the University of Connecticut, New Orleans Saints nose tackle John Jenkins was more into basketball than football.
Jenkins was a power forward, no doubt yearning to play for the homestate Huskies’ nationally ranked team, when his sports future took a serious turn.
Eight years later, the Saints are hoping basketball’s loss is their gain — especially for a team that’s trying to find anyone who can help them stop the run after they allowed 147.6 yards per game during a disastrous 2012 season.
At 347 pounds — which is about 12 pounds less than what he weighed at the scouting combine in February — Jenkins certainly could help foot the bill.
It might not have been possible had Jenkins, who played at Georgia the past two seasons after two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, not hit what he called a “growth spurt” when he was 15 or 16.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Jenkins said Monday. “My family is small and wide.”
In the NFL, wider is better — especially at nose tackle.
So when Jenkins eventually grew into a stout inside run defender in Georgia’s 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the Saints took notice while interviewing Grantham for a similar job.
While the Saints didn’t get Grantham because he removed his name from consideration, they made sure they got Jenkins.
On the second night of the draft in April, they sent their fourth-round pick, along with a fourth-rounder they received in a trade for Chris Ivory, to the Miami Dolphins for a third-round pick, then quickly snapped up Jenkins.
In bringing in Jenkins and free agent defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan says is the best run-stopping 3-4 end in the game, the Saints hope they’ll correct one of the many problems they faced a year ago.
Through two days of practice in full gear, Saints offensive linemen are finding it difficult to move Jenkins out of the way.
“I know John Jenkins is a real stout guy; I’ve gone against him quite a bit,” 300-pound center Brian de la Puente said. “He is stout, and he plays with heavy leverage. He’ll be a good addition to the defense, for sure.”
Through the early days of camp, Jenkins is backing up starter Brodrick Bunkley. But it’s no secret Saints coaches are counting on Jenkins to come in and start, if not this year, then next — and be the anchor of the line for years.
When told that some of the Saints offensive linemen had talked about how stout he is, Jenkins humbly took it in stride.
“For those guys to say that is a blessing,” he said. “You’ve got to realize this is a Super Bowl team I’m playing on. For them to say that I’m stout means I’m doing something to improve the team.
“Every day, I try to find something to work on, so I think I’m (progressing) at a positive standpoint.”