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
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
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
"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."