Week after week during spring practices, Michigan football players have met with the media beaming from recent success, while pointing optimistically to a future they believe will be even brighter. They’re players who, while identifying areas of improvement throughout, can’t help but sing high praises of anyone and everything they’re asked about.
Ask them about senior defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, however, and with all the attention he’s garnered early on, the responses are a little different. They look less like the general pieces of praise attributed to different players here or there throughout the roster, and more like the back of a New York Times bestseller.
“Kris Jenkins is just a monster. Everyone will see this year come fall like, ‘yeah this guy’s going to be one of the best guys in the country.” — senior edge Braiden McGregor, March 13.
“He looks even more powerful, more explosive, (he) keeps getting better each and every day. He’s a dog for sure.” — senior edge Jaylen Harrell, March 16.
“He’s going to be NFL ready by the end of the year. He’s got a lot of traits that show all the time.” — former defensive tackle Mazi Smith, Michigan Pro Day March 17.
And the list goes on. Jenkins has been regularly in the conversation and regularly creating a buzz this spring. But even as a known name, starting all 14 games on the d-line last season, his role isn’t very glamorous. Cooped up in the middle of the trenches, you won’t often find him sacking the quarterback or blowing up plays in the backfield.
Instead, he holds down the fort, often mixed up in piles of linemen to shut down opponents’ run games by holding gains to marginal yardage. It’s a spot he thrives in, leading Michigan’s defensive linemen with 54 tackles last season.
But when it comes to all those rave reviews, his teammates and coaches aren’t talking about his past success. They’re talking about the next chapter he plans to write this year.
“Kris Jenkins, potentially our best player on the defense, is going to be really good,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Feb. 23.
On Monday, the critically-acclaimed Jenkins made his 2023 premier in a meeting with reporters, and there he added more context to all the high praises.
Bubbly, energetic, answering every question with a smile, Jenkins quickly teased the complete package he brings to the table without even setting foot on the field. Sure, he showed plenty of it during his junior campaign, but now he’s being asked to do more. A senior in a d-line losing multiple starters from last year — specifically Smith, who was Michigan’s dominant force at nose tackle next year — his leadership is of utmost importance.
And if his energetic demeanor at the press conference was any indication, Jenkins is ready to be the motivated leader his position group needs.
“Especially when it’s like early morning, 6 a.m. (practices) and guys aren’t necessarily enthusiastic, I try to bring that type of energy every day,” Jenkins said. “Some can say I’m hyped up, some can say I’m crazy, but just trying to bring that excitement — bring that juice — is one of my favorite things.”
Hyped up, crazy — whatever it is, Jenkins plans to bring big-time energy this season. And he’s applying that approach not just to leadership, but addressing weak points as well. Despite being in the interior, he’s focused on creating more of a pass rush in the next campaign.
He’s also been building upon his athleticism. Being dubbed a “monster” doesn’t come for free, and Jenkins is earning it. Bulking up while staying agile and now eclipsing 300 pounds, he’s checking off every box with spring preparations in full swing — and doing it in his signature style.
“My passion and probably my strength set me apart a little bit,” Jenkins said. “… But honestly besides that I don’t want to hype myself up too much because there’s still a lot of stuff I gotta work on.”
Passionate, energetic and making strides of improvement, Jenkins is readying to take that next step. To be a game-wrecker against both the pass and the run. To be the leader his teammates turn to in the process.
And if the preseason hype is warranted, he’ll be ready to top the charts come fall.