Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 5/25/12
ST. LOUIS Janoris Jenkins keeps working. Hes on the side of a practice field with five other defensive backs after a recent organized team activity at Rams Park. He chops his feet in place, each repetition a chance to show his new squad hes more reward than risk. Soon Jenkins swings his hips, his dark-blue shorts flapping with each movement. He turns his torso in the direction of gestures from Dennard Wilson, the man responsible for the St. Louis Rams defensive quality control. Jenkins moves with a command about him, more than five minutes after most of his teammates have entered the locker room at the ContinuityX Training Center. The display shows the potential coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead see in his mobility: A dynamic cornerback who can lock down top wide receivers within a division that includes Doug Baldwin, Michael Crabtree and Larry Fitzgerald. Weve got plans in place, Fisher said after Jenkins was taken 39th overall, and were excited about his future here. But Jenkins promise comes with a caveat. Its a caution of which Rams leadership is well aware. Theres a history of character issues with the 5-foot-10, 193-pound rookie from Pahokee, Fla.: Police in Gainesville, Fla., tased and arrested him after he was involved in a street fight in May 2009. He was arrested twice for marijuana possession and kicked off Floridas team in April 2011. He has fathered four kids with three women. He was forced to salvage his career at Division II North Alabama last fall. To the Rams, Jenkins upside is worth their gamble. Hes a first-round talent who must show that he can make the most of his opportunity by staying clean. Snead and Fisher have a stake in Jenkins performance too. If the man who has drawn comparisons to Adam Pacman Jones succeeds, hell be lauded as a steal in the pairs first draft together. But if Jenkins struggles on or off the field, one of the Rams most controversial picks since Lawrence Phillips will be a critical miss for a franchise trying to build a winning foundation. Jenkins NFL future depends on his ability to manage the present. Im going to play with a chip on my shoulder no matter what, Jenkins said the day after he was drafted. My past is my past. I put it behind me, and Im going to come out week-in and week-out and compete to the best of my ability. Part of Jenkins includes risk. It was something Chris Willis, Jenkins secondary coach at North Alabama, understood when the player arrived on campus last summer. Willis knew about Jenkins ability he had 121 tackles with eight interceptions in three seasons at Florida but he was unsure how Jenkins would carry himself when the former first-team All-SEC cornerback took the field. Willis knew Jenkins would have more skill than most who lined up against him, but could the player be selfless? With time, Willis learned Jenkins was serious about earning trust. Jenkins work ethic lapsed in some early practices, but for the most part, Willis saw someone who stayed focused. The coaching staff at North Alabama made Jenkins sign a code of conduct that included demands like attending a high percentage of his classes, and Willis said Jenkins joined a student government group. I think he understands whats at stake now, Willis says. Theres a lot to lose here. Its on him. Its yet to be determined. If he can keep the right people around him, I think hes going to be fine. There were a few telling moments that convinced Willis that Jenkins would be fine at North Alabama. In the home opener against Central Oklahoma last September, Willis watched Jenkins huddle and motivate the secondary on the sideline in a key sequence. Willis wanted to see how Jenkins would respond during adversity. It was the first time Willis thought, It isnt all about him. Sixteen days later, during halftime against Abilene (Texas) Christian at Cowboys Stadium, coaches talked about adjustments to be made for the third quarter. Jenkins looked up and said, Lets make sure, Coach. If we play this coverage, this is how were going to do it, right? Willis knew Jenkins understood the coverage schemes, but the coach was convinced Jenkins spoke so other defenders would listen closer. I just think everyone deserves chances, Willis says. If it doesnt work out with the Rams organization, if he falters and screws up and gets arrested, then maybe you dont give him another chance. Hes at the highest level hell ever make. Some are skeptical that Jenkins will keep out of trouble in the NFL, though. Willis says he never received negative reports during Jenkins time in Florence, Ala., but the coach is aware of his former players history. Before the NFL Draft, Jenkins denied rumors that he used marijuana after leaving Florida. If hes responsible in St. Louis, Jenkins could become a valuable addition. Maybe hes got a different side, Willis says. But he didnt show that toward me. Part of Jenkins includes reward. Its heard in the praise from Fisher and Rams players during OTAs this week, and its seen when Jenkins practices with St. Louis top defensive unit. Those around him say he has agile feet, quality speed (he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine) and hes willing to learn from veterans. His new teammates have begun to understand why some projected him to be a mid-first round pick if not for his off-the-field concerns. Jenkins selection shows that the Rams are willing to overlook those issues to add depth at cornerback. Aggressive veteran Cortland Finnegan, a Pro Bowl selection from the 2008 season, was signed as a free agent in March. And former Montana star Trumaine Johnson, another player with character questions, was taken 65th overall. I think anyone whos not the first pick has something to prove, especially with him, Finnegan says of Jenkins. A lot of people knock him for this, that and a third. But hes a great guy, a great kid. He has so much more to learn, but hes like a sponge. He wants to learn. I think he has a lot to prove in a lot of different areas. I think football is his outlet, and I think hes going to prove to a lot of different people that he can stay out of trouble. Jenkins has a chance to make an impact if he does. The Rams used the draft to add young energy at cornerback, much in the same way they retooled their defensive line in recent years with top college talent. Jenkins selection is a sign that Fisher trusts his staff to manage the promising defensive back until he develops into the player they envision him to be. Fisher has bristled at comparisons between Jenkins and Pacman Jones. But fact is, a slip by Jenkins will reflect poorly on the coach and Snead after they spoke about placing an emphasis on character when evaluating prospects. Still, if Jenkins shows maturity if he shows that his sordid behavior is indeed part of his past the payoff could be large for a secondary that gave up an average of 206.3 yards passing per game last season. This spring has taken on a theme of new attitude at Rams Park. Theres little doubt that Jenkins offers an edge with a personality that made him a boom-or-bust possibility in the draft. As long as youre confident at corner, Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher says, you can play well. When watching Jenkins on the practice field, its hard not to wonder what he means for the Rams future. Hell either be a symbol of a failed leap of faith or a reminder of the savvy shown by Snead and Fisher during a draft that could be remembered as the start of a recovery. Thats the intrigue of Jenkins controversy. He arrives at a time when his franchise is trying to shed a losing image formed over the past five seasons, and hes part of a more aggressive vision under Fisher. Still, theres a fine boundary between risk and reward, and Jenkins alone will determine what his legacy will be. Yes, his issues at Florida and the questions that came with the start of his career at North Alabama are part of his record, but draft day also meant a new beginning for him. He can be as good as he wants to be, says Scott Wright, an NFL Draft analyst for DraftCountdown.com. As long as he does what he needs to do off the field, hes going to be a great player in the NFL, and thats going to be a steal. But thats a big if, because there is a track record of instances there. Its not one thing, its not two things its a long list. Thats why he was still available where he was. But at Rams Park, that list is mostly irrelevant. He represents cautious promise. Hes not Janoris Jenkins, the man who squandered a chance to finish his career in the Southeastern Conference. Hes not Janoris Jenkins, the man who cost himself prestige and a larger paycheck by making juvenile decisions that led to him falling out of the first round. No, hes potential at Rams Park. Hes someone with a fresh start. Hes someone who can build again. Hes someone, if hes wise, who will create with the platform given to him in his second football life. On the field, Im going to put in some good work, Jenkins says. Come out and work hard and learn from Cortland. And hopefully go from there. Its a start. Its a chance as well.
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