Titans' Jackrabbit Jenkins: New name, new team, same energy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans decided to revamp their secondary after giving up 36 passing touchdowns last season. Veteran cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins (you may know him as Janoris Jenkins) was one of the primary additions. The 32-year-old is on his third team in three years after signing a two-year, $15 million contract with Tennessee.

The new beginning with the Titans coincides with a name change to Jackrabbit. Jenkins says he no longer answers to Janoris -- he just doesn't like it.

He prefers to be called Jackrabbit. Coincidentally, the Pahokee area of South Florida, where Jenkins is from, is known for speedy athletes who catch rabbits as they flee from burning cane fields. But that's not how Jenkins got the name.

According to Jenkins, he got it during spring ball in his freshman year at Florida. He joined the Gators in January 2008 and admittedly didn't know the playbook. But Jenkins was constantly making plays. Vance Bedford, the defensive backs coach at the time, told Jenkins during a film session he was running around out there like a rabbit.

The name stuck.

Jenkins is bringing that same energy to Titans practices. The 10-year veteran is showcasing the playmaking ability that has led to his 26 career interceptions. After one week of training camp, Jenkins has intercepted Ryan Tannehill twice.

Seeing how much Jenkins is around the football during camp helps explain why he has two seasons without at least 10 passes defensed in nine years.

"I'm going to be a big tone-setter," Jenkins said. "That's my whole mentality. Come out here, have fun. The younger guys are going to look at me because I've been in it so long. So whenever I slack, I fail the team and the young guys. That's why I come out here and work so hard."

Jenkins' approach has not gone unnoticed by Titans coach Mike Vrabel. Vrabel respects Jenkins' experience and credits his willingness to compete as a reason why he's lasted so long.

"There is a level of competitiveness that is required to survive in this league, and Rabbit has done that for a lot of years," Vrabel said. "To be in his 30s, to go out there and compete, he loves football and has an energy to him. He has been a great addition. I do think that that can be a great example for some of those younger guys."

Jenkins is becoming a mentor for the younger defensive backs. Second-year cornerback Kristian Fulton said he used to watch Jenkins at Florida. Now Fulton is benefiting from working alongside him every day.

"It rubs off on me a lot," Fulton said. "He knows how to be a top guy, so I always try to take from his game. He gives us a lot of pointers as young guys, what to watch for. He's been a big help for us."

Rookie corner Caleb Farley has drawn the most attention from Jenkins during camp. The first-rounder was activated off the PUP list last Monday, and Jenkins went right to work pulling Farley aside to show him pointers on covering releases, defending at the catch point and more.

Jenkins and Farley partner up before practice as well. Farley wears a resistance band above his knees while shadowing Jenkins as he mimics a receiver coming off the ball. Jenkins said helping the younger corners is part of his job, which is ideal for the Titans, who have high hopes for Farley.

"That's huge having someone that is so willing to open up to me like that and share some of the things he's learned over his career," Farley said. "I truly feel the love and the bond here."

Titans defensive backs coach Anthony Midget has a close relationship with Jenkins thanks to their Florida ties. Midget is from Clewiston which is minutes from Jenkins' hometown. The familiarity with the area known as "The Muck" gives Midget a unique perspective and ability to relate to Jenkins.

"He understands me as a player and as a person from knowing my background," Jenkins said. "We have fun and talk about the old days, what it's like growing up in The Muck and just bonding. Just knowing he understands me and my mindset, he's pushing me."

"He has that mentality that you want as a leader," Midget said. "I know what he's about. How he came up having to work, scratch and claw for everything that he has gotten in his life. He still has that mentality. I love it and know he's going to bring a lot to our group."

The energy and mentorship for younger players is one thing. But big plays in practice or on game day can spark a team even more.

Few things turn the momentum around like a defensive touchdown. Jenkins' nine defensive touchdowns since his 2012 rookie season are the most of any NFL player over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Tennessee had one defensive touchdown last season.

The Titans' staff plans to lean on Jenkins' big-play ability to be a guiding presence when the team needs to turn things back in their favor.

"As somebody that has lived through the fire, he can pass that stuff along," defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said. "You see the way he practices and competes and goes about it, I think it rubs off on everybody regardless of the position group. The thing with him, he is constantly talking, constantly coaching guys up, constantly trying to turn the tide."

Added Jenkins, "If you ain't got energy, you can feed off of me all day, every day!"