Carolina Panthers

The rebirth of Jenkins: Defensive tackle reports to camp despite offseason issues

Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins walks to the players dorm on the campus of Wofford College on Friday.
Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins walks to the players dorm on the campus of Wofford College on Friday.

SPARTANBURG -- Kris Jenkins didn't stop for reporters Friday when he reported to the Carolina Panthers training camp.

But the T-shirt he was wearing as he walked past them after dinner spoke to what he was trying to communicate, and what the Panthers can only hope is the truth.

The very large (not just extra large) gray shirt was emblazoned with a series of slogans on the back, which read: "I run faster. I jump higher. I cut quicker. I last longer. I am stronger."

We'll all find out beginning today how much of that holds, when Jenkins and the rest of the Panthers take the practice field for the first time. It'll be the first time they've seen him in uniform since the mandatory May minicamp, when he stayed away from the entire voluntary June session.

In May, he checked in at 384 pounds. The 335 pounds at which the Panthers have listed him since his rookie year is so obsolete it's an historical relic.

Jenkins did look considerably slimmer than he did in May, though no one seemed interested in quantifying how much of him was no longer with him.

"I'm not even going to go down that path," Panthers coach John Fox said when asked how much lighter Jenkins was Friday. "I think we've discussed that to its fullest. It's not going to be an issue. It's his performance that's what's key."

Toward that end, Jenkins spent the time he wasn't with the team working with a personal trainer, former University of Maryland walk-on football player Messay Hailemariam.

The trainer accompanied Jenkins to camp to offer his support, and also acted as a spokesman since Jenkins turned down two opportunities to talk.

Hailemariam said Jenkins would work out four to six days a week, twice a day each. He said in addition to regular strength and conditioning work, he did speed training on the track and also worked in a pool in hopes of getting back to shape.

Though he was much bigger than his first two Pro Bowl trips, Jenkins returned to health and the league's all-star game last year after missing most of 2004 and 2005 with injuries.

Like Fox, Hailemariam didn't want to quantify Jenkins current shape, but said the results were dramatic.

"I couldn't give you specific numbers, but he's definitely looking great and his body fat's dropped a great deal," the Greenbelt, Md.-based trainer said. "He's probably as agile as he was when he came into the league, and looking as strong as he's ever been.

"So he's probably going to really show the league what he's capable of, and then some."

When healthy, Jenkins has proven he can be a game-changer. But he disappeared at times last year, surprising many of his own co-workers when he was named to the Pro Bowl.

Another issue has been his contract status. He's locked up through 2009, but has asked for a new deal.

The recent seven-year, $49 million pact Detroit's Cory Redding signed raises the bar for elite tackles, but the Panthers aren't inclined to give him a raise given that he's finished one of the past three seasons on the active roster.

But another healthy year, and another productive year, could change all that.

While some worried about his condition after this summer's absence (and the $175,000 workout bonus he forfeited by staying away), Friday marked a positive step away from that talk.

Hailemariam said he could sense a resolve in Jenkins workouts, and that the world would soon see the results.

"For Kris, it was more that he wanted to take the time away, come here and get his head right, get his body right, and make sure that he's coming in refreshed," he said. "It's not so much that he wanted to get away (from Charlotte), he just wanted get himself right and be away from the environment that he's going to be here, so it's going to be like a brand new place for him.

"Basically he wanted to get reborn, take some time away, get his body and mind right and come back at the optimal level he's supposed to be at."

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