The pain is all too familiar for New York Jets All-Pro nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
A 6’4″, 360-pound defender by trade, but persistent competitor at heart will be forced to the sideline for the rest of 2009 with a devastating, season-ending knee injury.
The torn anterior cruciate ligament was confirmed by Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News, ending speculation and sprinkling salt on the Jets’ wounds after a crushing 16-13 divisional loss to Buffalo.
It was the second quarter when Jenkins stopped Bills running back Fred Jackson. Jenkins remained on the turf as the congestion around him cleared, grimacing as trainers examined him before hobbling gingerly off the field with help.
He never returned, but now fans have to wonder if he’ll be able to return as the same Kris Jenkins after surgery.
The road is one Jenkins has already traveled. In 2005, he was with the Carolina Panthers when he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. The season-ending injury followed a shoulder injury that sidelined him in 2004.
Although he returned to All-Pro form after finding a home with the Jets in 2008, the injuries happened to a younger, smaller Jenkins.
Given his massive stature and age—Jenkins turned 30 in August—is it reasonable to expect No. 77 to return to All-Pro form on two surgically repaired knees?
Jenkins is a recently married man with two young children. He may reach a crossroads when deciding if he’d like to continue playing a game where injuries come back to haunt players.
Under such circumstances, Jenkins’ return could rely more heavily on his feelings as a family man than it does on the rehabilitation of his knee.
But it’s far too soon for such speculation, right?
As it stands, coach Rex Ryan must figure out how to help his defense recover from the dagger that was driven into his unit’s heart. Make no mistake about it—the defensive scheme doesn’t function properly without Jenkins on the field.
His ability to collapse the pocket, devour runs, and occupy the line of scrimmage is a skillset the Jets require to function properly. Without him, Ryan is forced to concoct a new defensive formula to disrupt the offense.
Sione Pouha, a 6’3″, 325-pound defensive tackle, moves up the depth chart with Jenkins’ injury. But can the Jets expect a 30-year-old perennial backup in his fifth year to fill the void Jenkins’ injury created?
If the Pouha experiment doesn’t work, Ryan may have to deviate from his 3-4 defensive scheme and explore more four-man fronts with a rotating defensive line.
Defensive end Shaun Ellis could be move inside in some situations with some outside linebackers taking a three-point stance to seal the edges. But that’s only more speculation in a confusing time for the Jets defense.
Whatever the situation, fans should expect a significant trial and error period before Ryan develops new schemes for his players strengths.