EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jackrabbit is teaching the puppies how to play.
Last month, the Giants selected cornerbacks with three of their 10 draft choices, prompting someone to ask general manager Dave Gettleman at his post-draft news conference if veteran Janoris Jenkins – “Jackrabbit” to everyone on the team – would remain on the roster.
“Janoris has a bunch of puppies he's got to train,” Gettleman said.
And Jenkins is doing exactly that. Since the rookies joined the veterans last week at the team’s offseason workouts, Jenkins has offered advice and counsel in the meeting and locker rooms and led by example on the field.
“I’m embracing it, as far as being the leader of the room,” said Jenkins, 30. “Just lead the young guys the best way I can, and show them how to be a pro.”
And how does he do that?
“Just lead by example,” he said. “Go out, work hard, compete on the ball and finish, and just come out to work every day.”
Coach Pat Shurmur said after the draft that he expected Jenkins to excel in that role.
“He'll become a good teacher,” Shurmur said. “I admire Janoris. He's tough. He's competitive. He always answers the bell, and I've gained a huge appreciation for him coaching him over the last year or so, and so just … put all these young guys in a room with him, and I think Janoris will be Janoris, and if these young guys are smart enough to listen, then they're going to learn a lot of really good stuff.”
The Giants have a pair of experienced safeties in 14-year pro Antoine Bethea and seven-year veteran Michael Thomas. But Jenkins stands alone as a seasoned cornerback. Entering his eighth year, Jenkins has played in 101 regular-season and postseason games. The team’s next-most experienced corners are four-year pros Tony Lippett and Antonio Hamilton, who have played in 28 and 25 games, respectively. Grant Haley played in 10 games as a rookie last season. The other corners on the roster – Ronald Zamort, Henre’ Toliver, 2018 supplemental draft choice Sam Beal and last month’s selections – DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine – have never played a pro snap. Jenkins has played 38 more games than all the other corners on the roster combined.
“To be honest, I’ve never been surrounded by a lot of young guys,” Jenkins said. “But like I said, I have to come out and do what I have to do, lead by example and just show them how to be a pro.”
The youngsters are glad he’s here to help.
“He’s a great role model,” said Beal, who missed the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery. “He’s been incredible. I go to him with anything I need – question-wise, he has an answer for it. I ask him a lot of questions. He teaches me how to keep my leverage. I’ll talk to him before a play starts – ‘If you see something, let me know from the other side.’ When I come back from a play, if (the receiver) caught a ball, I ask him, ‘How do I do this?’ and I make sure I remember it.”
“It’s been good learning things from him,” Baker said. “He’s been helping me learn the system, coaching me on the small things, getting me better. He helps me with the coverages and different techniques out there.”
Jenkins can benefit from dispensing advice just as the young players can from receiving it.
“It lets me know that I have to be on top of my game at all times,” he said, “because I have young guys watching me.”
Jenkins joined the Giants in 2016 as a free agent after four seasons with the St. Louis Rams. That year, he was voted a second-team All-Pro and played in his first Pro Bowl. Jenkins’ career statistics include 405 tackles (358 solo) and 18 interceptions, including seven returned for touchdowns. He has also scored on a fumble return and a blocked punt return. His nine career touchdowns placed him second among active defensive players at the end of the 2018 season, behind Denver’s Aqib Talib, who has 10.
Last year, Jenkins was one of eight Giants, and one of three defensive players, to start all 16 games. He led the Giants with 15 passes defensed, and he was fourth on the team with 69 tackles (58 solo).
Players in Jenkins’ position often receive their share of “old man” remarks from younger players. But Beal said the good-natured digs don’t apply to Jenkins.
“You can’t even tell he’s the old guy,” Beal said. “As far as knowledge, yeah. But how he moves around, he’s still there. You can’t joke around with him (about being older) because he’s still got it.”
And now Jackrabbit is helping his young teammates get it.