Janoris Jenkins survived Giants purge and is facing next challenge

Cornerbacks are part of a defense and members of a team, of course, but they are often on an island — not in the Tom Hanks/“Cast Away’’ sense, but in that they often do their best work in isolation, one-on-one with a receiver.

Janoris Jenkins in many ways is the quintessential cornerback. He is quirky and confident, upbeat and unusual, insisting everyone call him “Jackrabbit’’ and giving off an unflappable vibe after wins and losses, offering up the same persona after a pass breakup or a blown coverage, never sweating the small stuff.

Jenkins started all 16 games last season for just the second time in his seven-year NFL career, but it was not vintage Jackrabbit. He was not fully recovered from the ankle surgery that prematurely ended his 2017 season, and his play on the field regressed.

“I had an up-and-down season last year,’’ Jenkins said this week. “I had a little injury. It took me like Game 8 to really feel like myself again. From there, I’ve just been on point.”

A return to health and a return to the team that in 2016 lavished on him a five-year, $62.5 million contract has Jenkins feeling frisky. He said there is no doubt he will once again rise to the level of one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

“I will, 2019 Jackrabbit, I will, for sure,’’ he said.

That Jenkins, 30, is here at all is a surprise to those who observed the roster purge orchestrated by general manager Dave Gettleman and figured the colorful Jackrabbit would be shipped out along with Damon “Snacks’’ Harrison, Eli Apple, Olivier Vernon and Landon Collins.

Jenkins, though, earned the trust and respect of coach Pat Shurmur, who gets a kick out of what Jenkins brings to the table in terms of work ethic and easygoing accountability. Thus, Jenkins is back for a fourth year with the Giants, making $10.1 million in salary and counting $14.75 on the salary cap.

The Giants want more than exemplary play for this investment. They want Jenkins to set an example for an incredibly young group of cornerbacks: rookie draft picks DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine, and second-year players Grant Haley and Sam Beal, who missed his entire rookie year in 2018 following shoulder surgery. There is talent to groom. It is quite a leap of faith that Jenkins is being entrusted to lead the band.

“They talked to me when we got back,’’ Jenkins said. “They just told me they look forward to me meeting the young guys. I’m up for the challenge.

“I’m embracing it, as far as being the leader of the room. Just lead the young guys the best way I can, and show them how to be a pro.’’

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The early returns are promising.
“Janoris has been not great but unbelievable with our young guys,’’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “He has had great, teachable moments where as a coach you just have to let it go. You are starting to go coach the young guys, and he is already on it. I see the ownership in Year 2 that he is starting to take with those guys. It is outstanding and it is going to help us be a better defense and not just those guys be better players themselves.’’

Everett Withers, in his first year as the Giants defensive backs coach, said Jenkins has “been awesome’’ working with his younger teammates.

So far, so good, says Jackrabbit.

“As far as the classroom, everybody seemed like they were focused, learning, picking my brain, picking the coaches’ brain and asking questions,’’ he said. “When you get young guys doing that, it’s a positive. It lets me know that I have to be on top of my game at all times because I have young guys watching me. Like I said, just lead by my example.”

Jenkins saw Vernon and Harrison — like him, part of the high-priced 2016 free-agent haul — traded away. Collins signed with the Redskins. If he was taken aback by the exodus, he kept that feeling well-hidden.

“Business is business in the NFL,’’ Jenkins said. “Everything and every move they make is always about business.

“I really wasn’t worried about where I would be. I just knew that I’d be on somebody’s team, and whoever it was, I’m going to be Jackrabbit.”

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Neil S. Schwartz

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