The NFL lockout couldn’t come at a better time for run-stuffer Kris Jenkins and his ailing body.
The former Jets’ nose tackle is still recovering from his second serious knee injury in as many years. The 31-year-old is using the time and the pace of his own offseason workouts to make another comeback attempt, likely with a team that plays on natural grass.
“I’d be interested if [the Jets] had grass on the stadium field but right now, that’s the big thing and they don’t,” Jenkins told Metro yesterday. “I’ve played here long and loved it. I love this team, I love the fans and I’ve bonded with this team. I feel like I have a connection with this city.”
Jenkins was released by Gang Green after the season but confirmed he was offered a one-year deal to come back at a reduced salary. But it’s about more than money for the four-time Pro Bowler. The FieldTurf at New Meadowlands Stadium has hurt both home teams that play there, stripping seasons away from both Jenkins and Giants kick returner Domenik Hixon.
“[FieldTurf], it ain’t my friend. Just as far as my health is concerned, I need to think about that and how my body can and will respond,” Jenkins said. “New York would be a major possibility, we’ll have to see, but at this point in time, I want to take care of me, too.”
With labor negotiations at a standstill, the lockout means that offseason training activities in the team’s facility is verboten. So Jenkins makes a 30-minute drive several times a week to TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, N.J. to workout alongside current Jets Vladimir Ducasse, Bart Scott and Jamaal Westerman. Jenkins isn’t focusing on just strength training building but on agility, logging long hours increasing his flexibility and mobility says TEST owner Brian Martin.
“He’s very dedicated when he comes in here. He clearly has a mission that he’s working towards,” Martin said. “We’re just trying to get him there.”
The mission for Jenkins is to get back in the league. The Jets saved themselves a big hit on the salary cap by cutting him before he entered the fourth year of his $30.25 million contract. Given his two serious knee injuries over the past 18 months – Jenkins missed the entirety of the 2010 season after suffering a first quarter injury in a Week 1 loss to Baltimore – Jenkins has himself focused on getting back into playing shape.
And he said that for the first time in his career, he’s stress free. He has learned when to step and when to push forward and that his body is responding. In fact next week, he’s heading to the TEST facility in Florida to train with younger brother Cullen Jenkins of the Green Bay Packers.
He’s dropped 20 pounds since he began working out with Martin and his staff at TEST; although he’s not prepared to say how much he currently weighs, Jenkins acknowledges that his mobility is coming back and he ran with relative ease throughout his workout. He feels like he’s ready to play on grass soon “and in the next month or so, maybe on turf.”
Anything with a concrete base such as an artificial surface still bothers him. But for a player in a much hyped weight loss competition last year with Jets head coach Rex Ryan, it is now just about getting healthy.
“My biggest goal is to not stress. I’m a perfectionist and I’ve done things that way for my whole career. It’s one of the biggest things working for us, as a professional athlete, is our desire for perfection. It also works against us,” Jenkins said. “But I’ve also learned that at the point of my career that I’m at, that stress and overworking can hurt you too. I mean, I dropped 20 pounds by not paying attention to the weight, just by working hard here and not weighing myself every day. I just work at it – let it happen.”
But now, a new challenge awaits. Not only is he fighting to get back into playing shape, but he’s also playing for another contract. Before the knee problems, he played the last portion of the 2008 season with a bulging disc. The motivation for Jenkins stems from his home where he sees the need to provide for his family.
“My wife isn’t going to take a pay cut, she’s always telling me ‘We got school to pay for’ and things like that,” Jenkins said. “But most important to her is that I don’t get hurt again. She doesn’t want to see that – I don’t want to see that.”
And while Jets fans have grown to love Jenkins over the past three years with the team, they may not be loving him in green this fall. When he was cut by the team last month, Jenkins recalls an outpouring of support from his teammates. He also got some love from Jets management.
“After it all happened, I had a great conversation with Rex, Mike [Tannenbaum] and even Woody [Johnson] called me,” Jenkins said of the Jets head coach, general manager and owner. “I was surprised, because I didn’t know that Woody saw me as one of ‘those’ guys on the team. He talked with me honestly and said that he’d be in touch to see where things go down the road. It was a nice way to end things.”