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In midst of #ClampSeason, Rams' Janoris Jenkins bets on himself

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has earned a reputation for being unafraid to gamble on the field. Now, he's showing that same willingness to bet big on himself off the field.

In the final year of his four-year rookie contract, Jenkins has made it known to the Rams that he doesn't want to have any further discussions about a new contract this season after a self-imposed bye week deadline came and went without a new deal.

"It's over for the season," Jenkins said. "After football [season], I'd be glad to sign back with them but as far as the season, I just want to focus on football.

"I gave them up until bye week. They knew what was going on. I told them anything after the bye week, I ain't listening, I don't want to hear it. I want to focus on football. The bye week is gone, so I just want to play football."

The Rams and Jenkins' side have been involved in contract discussions since around the scouting combine in February. In that time, the two sides drew closer to a deal, but Jenkins has maintained that it should ultimately land him in a class closer to the league's elite corners.

In his previous three seasons, Jenkins hadn't quite played up to that elite level as he was plagued by inconsistency in his first two seasons and a sprained MCL in 2014. Jenkins still managed to make his share of big plays, scoring six touchdowns, which is the most of any defensive player in the NFL. Those scores were often overshadowed by miscues that returned the favor to the offense, as Jenkins gave up some long touchdowns.

But there's a consensus at Rams Park that Jenkins is the best he has been since he entered the league as a second-round pick in 2012.

"I thought he was really productive since his arrival here, but yeah, he's knocking down a lot of passes," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's getting himself in position to make a lot of plays. He's tackling well. Those two deep-ball interceptions that he had earlier in the year were as good as you've ever seen. So, he's playing well. I mean, this game is important to him. He studies. He understands. He communicates. He's a top corner in this league."

Although the Rams didn't advertise it, Jenkins says he played through a Grade 3 MCL sprain for the second half of 2014, missing only two games because of the injury. Jenkins took extra time to recover during the offseason and came back to St. Louis in the best shape of his career, according to Fisher. Fully healthy with a season of playing in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense, Jenkins has consistently been one of the team's best players in the first six games.

"I feel like it's the best I've played but I've got to keep it up," Jenkins said. "It's a big help, it helps me play faster, knowing what I've got to play for and what I ain't got to try to bite on or whatever. And there's chemistry with my guys on the back end; we have a nice chemistry. We have been together for awhile and built that chemistry and bond where everybody knows what everybody is doing, everybody knows how everybody plays."

Jenkins heads toward Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers with 31 tackles, a forced fumble, two interceptions and four pass breakups. Pro Football Focus has Jenkins as its ninth-highest graded corner this season. He has been good enough in coverage that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted him just once in the team's Week 5 meeting.

Jenkins has even taken to throwing different looks at opposing quarterbacks to keep them off balance, occasionally faking that he'll play Cover 2 when he's really playing Cover 3 or vice-versa. On the play in which he forced a fumble that led to safety Rodney McLeod's touchdown last week, Jenkins opened his hips a little before the snap to make it look like he was going to cover the deep route, but he already had identified the play and broke on it right after the snap.

Those are things Jenkins couldn't do even a year ago, when the game was still moving fast and he was playing hurt.

"It's slowed down a hundred percent," Jenkins said. "What I was seeing in my rookie and sophomore year, it was like a fast flash and now I'm just seeing everything slow, recognizing the splits or route concepts, the personnel and different formations and knowing what I can get out of this formation or that formation. Just film study and if I keep going I feel like it will just get slower and slower."

Jenkins has even started a Twitter ritual to keep him motivated, tweeting before games with the hashtag #ClampSeason.

"Clamp Season is just when you come over there, you're going to get 21 clamps and that's what I believe in," Jenkins said. "No time for playing, no time for, 'Oh, he did this one game.' No, everything is clamp season, baby."

If #ClampSeason keeps going at its current rate, the price of Jenkins' next deal is only going to continue to rise. Before the season and even up until the bye week deadline, offers in the $8 million annual range were probably considered a fair price for the Rams. But Jenkins has played better than other corners, such as Philadelphia's Byron Maxwell, who makes more than that. And if Jenkins keeps performing at his current rate, something closer to $10 million to $11 million annually might end up closer to the number it takes to sign him for the long haul.

In the meantime, Jenkins has no issues betting on himself to stay healthy and productive.

"The game comes with its nicks and naggings, but at the end of the day I like myself over what they offered me and I feel like I'm playing great ball right now," Jenkins said. "I've got to keep it up. I just want to get paid what I'm worth. Then everything will work itself out."