Jelani Jenkins didn’t just emerge as a playmaker in 2014. He quietly became a leader.
Jenkins revealed during an appearance on 104.3 The Ticket on Tuesday that during parts of last season — his second in the NFL — it was he, and not veteran Koa Misi, making the defensive calls.
“I was quickly put into the leadership role, calling the plays, things like that,” said Jenkins, the Dolphins’ ascending outside linebacker. “I think moving on to the next season it will pretty much be the same thing.”
The Dolphins certainly hope so. He expects to have the same role — starting weak-side linebacker — that he earned last year. That would mean Chris McCain or Spencer Paysinger, who have alternated reps this spring, would work on the strong side.
And although Misi remains the odds-on favorite to start in the middle, don’t discount the possibility of Kelvin Sheppard stealing some playing time.
It has been a remarkable rise for Jenkins, the defense’s most pleasant surprise last season. He began the season on the bench but went on to record 110 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks in 14 starts after Dannell Ellerbe was lost for the season with a hip injury.
So what kind of stat line does he have planned as a follow-up?
“A Super Bowl would be nice,” Jenkins said. “That would be a nice little stat to have. Lead that defense to a Super Bowl. That would be what I’m most looking forward to.”
If he does, it would be because Jenkins benefited from an influx of talent and a streamlined scheme.
He will play behind Ndamukong Suh, the superb defensive tackle whose double-teams should spring Jenkins and others to make plays.
And he shouldn’t have to worry about defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle overloading the group with an overly complex system. Defensive players privately complained last season that Coyle thought too much in crucial situations.
But Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has stressed a less-is-more philosophy on that side of the ball this offseason.
“I think things have definitely been simplified. … I can definitely tell that things have been cut down, stripped down a little bit,” Jenkins said.
Even with last year’s breakthrough, Jenkins is just one of several Dolphins leaders on defense.
But on the offensive side? That role belongs alone to Ryan Tannehill, who signed a six-year, $96 million contract extension this spring.
Jenkins said Tannehill has “continued to get smarter, get better. … Guys are definitely buying in around him. You can definitely tell.”
One of those players, presumably, is wide receiver DeVante Parker, the first-round draft pick who has been the star of OTAs.
“He’s an animal,” Jenkins said. “He goes and gets the ball wherever it is. He’s aggressive. He knows how to use his body. I’m really impressed with him.”