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Film Room: John Jenkins stands out as pass-rusher against 49ers

Breaking down the DT’s performance

Miami Dolphins vs Detroit Lions
John Jenkins
Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Something that caught me by surprise during the Las Vegas Raiders' first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers was how well defensive tackle John Jenkins performed as a pass-rusher.

In the past, Jenkins has been known as a run defender who doesn’t provide much pressure on the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, the most pressures he’s had during the regular season is 13, and that’s going all the way back to his rookie year in 2013. He’s topped out at 12 since then and has only cracked double-digits four times in 10 years.

However, the defensive tackle started last Sunday’s game with a sack and had a couple of nice pass rushes during his limited opportunities. So, I figured I dive into those reps and look at what made him successful and how the Raiders were using him to see if that’s something he can replicate in the regular season.

We’ll start with the sack mentioned above. Jenkins is lined up as a 3-technique which is different than where he typically plays as he’s been more of a nose tackle (head up or shaded on the center) during his career.

You can tell he’s still a run-first type of player as he’s more measured getting off the ball rather than firing up the field. Also, it looks like the Raiders are asking him to two-gap as his first step is very short and he gets to square on the offensive lineman. That helps him keep his base underneath him, and he does a great job of getting his hands up quickly and inside on the guard’s chest which will translate when he starts to rush the passer.

Once Jenkins recognizes pass, he has good leverage with his helmet under the offensive lineman’s and then his brute strength takes over with a bull rush as he gets the sack.

His power is something that can certainly translate as a pass-rusher during the regular season, but I will say that part of the reason he gets a sack here is because of the 49ers’ play call.

They’re running a quick game concept and Trey Lance’s first read isn’t open but the ball should be out to the receiver at the top of the screen running the out route. However, Lance is late with his decision making and, since it’s a quick game concept, he takes a short drop which makes it easier for Jenkins to get the sack.

This next clip is similar to the last one. When San Francisco motions the tight end to the other side of the center and flips the strength of the formation, Jenkins shifts into a 3-technique.

The 49ers do run play-action this time, which is different than the previous rep, and Jenkins absorbs contact from the double team well to avoid getting knocked off of his path as a pass rusher. That’s where his strength and leverage start to take over, and I’m also a big fan of his leg drive. Those three things will translate and help him collapse the pocket when the competition level rises and the games start counting.

I’ll keep the breakdown short on this rep because it’s basically the same as the one before; play-action from the 49ers and a nice bull rush from Jenkins.

Again, his leverage, leg drive and strength really pop off the screen as he physically dominates the guard. Also, take a look at his hand placement.

Jenkins lands his hands inside and on the guard’s chest which puts the guard in a compromising position where the guard’s knees are locked, preventing him from digging heels into the ground and re-anchoring.

Alright, I know this is supposed to be an article on Jenkins as a pass-rusher, but I have to include at least one run defense clip that stood out.

He’s lined up as a 2i-technique and San Francisco calls outside zone to the other side of the center, putting him on the backside. He gets off the ball and stands up the guard to gain control of the block.

With inside leverage on the guard, Jenkins is responsible for the weak A-gap, so he runs his feet to avoid getting reached and take away the lane from the running back.

Once the back bounces backside—shoutout to Malcolm Koonce for forcing the cutback—the defensive tackle is able to shed the block and make the tackle in the adjacent gap. Again, another example of Jenkins’ strength and power.