Panthers Pro Bowl DT Jenkins has torn ACL
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kris Jenkins was poised to regain his status as the best defensive tackle in the NFL this season. Instead, the cog of the Carolina Panthers' line will miss his second straight year due to injury.
Jenkins, a 2003 All-Pro, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Carolina's loss to the New Orleans Saints. Although he was injured in the first quarter, he said Monday he didn't realize the severity and briefly returned to the field in the third quarter before leaving for good.
"I didn't think it was that bad ... it felt like I had hyperextended it at first," he said. "I could still run on the thing. I know that's a little odd.
"When I went back out there, I realized then I had torn something big."
The two-time Pro Bowler missed 12 games last season with a shoulder injury, but declared himself fit last week and ready to return as the NFL's top defensive tackle.
So when he first left Sunday's game with the knee injury, he was determined to get back on the field. It was similar to last season, when Jenkins hurt his shoulder but played two more games before finally submitting to season-ending surgery.
"If I felt I've got a shot at playing, then I'm going to do that," he said. "If I felt I could play, if I could still help give my team a shot, then I'm going to be out there."
Jenkins, who was taken in and out of Bank of America Stadium on a golf cart, insisted on standing as he talked with reporters Monday. Midway through, he took a deep sigh and sat down in the cart, relieving all pressure on his heavily wrapped right leg.
This is the third season-ending injury for the Panthers, who were devastated last year with more than 12 players going down with such injuries. Jenkins joins safety Colin Branch (torn ACL) and rookie running back Eric Shelton (broken foot) on the injured list.
But the loss of Jenkins is the most significant and will carry heavy consequences for a defensive line regarded as one of the NFL's best. With Jenkins out, teams can now increase their coverage on All-Pro end Julius Peppers. It also leaves aging veteran Brentson Buckner vulnerable on run defense because he's not the stopper that Jenkins is.
Kindal Moorehead replaced Jenkins most of last season, but was inactive for Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Saints. When Jenkins was injured in the first quarter, the Panthers only had second-year player Jordan Carstens to fill in. Backup defensive end Al Wallace was sporadically used inside and admitted to being overmatched.
Aside from replacing Jenkins on the field, the Panthers must also work hard to prevent him from feeling disconnected with the team.
Jenkins admitted to struggling with depression last season while he was injured. He hit a low point after the Oakland Raiders beat the Panthers in Carolina and Jenkins watched Warren Sapp, his bitter rival, celebrate on the field.
Jenkins has said that moment sent him into a downward spiral and he began drinking too much. When he was finally cleared to play again, he was overweight and had to work hard this spring to get back into shape.
Carolina coach John Fox said the team would work with Jenkins to prevent that from happening again.
"It is a long process and something we are going to have to help him with," Fox said. "I don't think there has ever been a player who has had an injury who hasn't struggled with it emotionally.
"It's something these guys work hard to do and not being a part of it is hard. I don't know many that have eased through it."
Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said the team will do its part to support Jenkins.
"We'll still be messing with him in the training room," Rucker said. "We need to keep [him] feeling connected."
The Panthers have offered Jenkins a support system and use of a counselor, but he so far plans to attack his emotions on his own. Jenkins said he learned from his bad experiences last season and won't repeat his mistakes.
"Last year was different. Last year was the first time I had to go through all of that," he said. "I didn't know what it was going to be like not playing. I'm not going to sit here and act like it's going to be a nice time, sitting on the sideline and not being able to do anything.
"But my career is not over."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press