OWINGS MILLS – Kris Jenkins bullies most centers, manhandling them with his powerful charge, extreme girth and uncanny quickness for his size.
The massive New York Jets’ nose guard anchors the reigning top-ranked defense in the league, making a healthy return from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that ended his season last year.
The formidable 6-foot-4, 360-pound former University of Maryland standout requires special blocking attention, and the Baltimore Ravens are making their plans with Jenkins in mind.
Monday night’s clash shapes up as an old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves festival of bruises. It’s time to knuckle up.
“Jenkins can singlehandedly do damage,” said Ravens center Matt Birk, who’ll be primarily responsible for engaging in a wrestling match with Jenkins. “So, it will be a challenge for us inside. He’s a large man. He’s a big guy with explosion and he’s got speed. He’s got all those things. That’s why you’re asking me about him because he’s a good ballplayer.”
The return of the Jets’ four-time Pro Bowl nose guard strengthens an already impressive and aggressive defense, providing an intimidating presence in the middle of the defensive line.
Heading into his 10th NFL season, Jenkins is unusually active for a nose guard with 278 career tackles and 24 sacks.
“You watch a bunch of film on him, and he’s a big strong guy and tough to move,” offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. “When we get double-teams on him, we want to move him and we want to wear him out. He’s a great player, a big run-stuffer.
“We have to be physical with him and make sure when we get double-teams on him that we take advantage of them because if we get two on him that’s always better than one. He’s a great player, and we’ll have our hands full, but we’ll be ready.”
The Jets’ run defense allowed 98.6 yards per contest last season, ranking eighth in the NFL and fourth in rushing yards allowed per attempt with a 3.8 average. The Ravens’ fifth-ranked rushing attack features Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice, one of the most dangerous all-purpose threats in the game.
While Jenkins’ return is a major story line, so are the pending collisions between Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain and inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris.
Harris spearheads the Jets’ defense, recording 142 tackles, 5 ½ sacks and two interceptions last season as the breakout defensive ace.
And Scott, a trash-talker extraordinaire who used to play for Baltimore until signing a $48 million deal with the Jets last year, is the emotional leader of the defense.
McClain is a bullish lead blocker at 6-foot, 260 pounds.
“They’re good, man,” McClain said. “They’re physical linebackers, downhill, always ready to make play and wanting to get to the quarterback. I’ve got to bring my A game this week as usual.”
The Jets ranked first last season in points allowed and yards allowed, and a lot of that stinginess starts right up the middle with Scott and Harris shooting through gaps at the line of scrimmage.
“Great instincts, hard-hitting downhill guys,” Birk said. “They excel in that system obviously.”
Scott ranked second on the team with 107 tackles last season.
The so-called “Mad Backer” undoubtedly led the Jets in profanities, too, and in jokes.
He’s known for mean-spirited, often funny remarks about opponents.
Against his old football team, he’s certain to be talking.
“I enjoy it, I talk a little bit myself,” McClain said. “I’m definitely prepared for it. Our actions will show on the field, whoever wins each battle.”
“If they’re talking, we don’t listen to them anyways,” Yanda said. “We’ll be ready for Bart. We’ll be ready for Harris, too.”
Controlling Jenkins, though, is the key to running the football up the middle on the Jets.
And the 31-year-old is agile and mobile enough that he can’t simply be avoided through pitches, toss sweeps and off-tackle plays.
“Oh man, he’s pretty much the anchor of that defense with him in the middle,” McClain said. “He can move sideline to sideline. He’s got them great guys behind him, Bart and David. He keeps those guards off of them, and they can make plays. We got to play like a Raven, hands down.”
The Ravens averaged 137.5 rushing yards per game last season.
If they can consistently grind out yards against the Jets, it will represent a serious accomplishment.
“It’s never easy, it won’t be easy for me,” Birk said. “They’ll bring it from all sorts of packages. They were the No. 1 defense last year. That doesn’t happen by accident. That means you’re pretty solid and you make a lot of plays.”