Rams’ gamble on Janoris Jenkins is paying off in a major way

Perhaps it was his time with the Chicago Bears of the 1980s that gave St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher a sense of how to bring the best out of players that other teams would find too much of a challenge. When your quarterback (Jim McMahon) is mooning helicopters during Super Bowl week and constantly tweaking the Commissioner over the league's wardrobe policy, and your head coach (Mike Ditka) gets popped for a DUI in-season, you get used to working with unique characters.

During his time with the Tennessee Titans, Fisher, who played defensive back for the Bears from 1981 through 1984 and coached on the 1985 Super Bowl team, got great gains -- for a while -- out of talented but difficult Titans players like Adam "Pacman" Jones and Albert Haynesworth.

It's an acumen Fisher took to his new job with the Rams, and when he and general manager Les Snead selected North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the second round of the 2012 draft, Fisher knew full well that he was in for another potential challenge.

There were many red flags surrounding Jenkins pre-draft, but as Fisher told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday, "no team did more homework" on Jenkins than did the Rams. Jenkins was kicked off the Florida team for marijuana use, and he has four children with three different women. Fisher, as he has done before, was more than willing to vet the third-day character issues if the first-round talent could be harnessed.

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"Every situation is different, and we were very, very satisfied, or we wouldn't have selected him," Fisher said. "He's an outstanding man who loves the game and understands the game. He's improved significantly over the last three or four weeks -- I won't say he's 'guessing right,' but he's been making good decisions out there, and it's been paying off for him. He's got a lot to learn, but he's definitely willing, and he puts the time in."

Well, now he is. Fisher benched Jenkins and fellow rookie Chris Givens for the Rams' Week 10 game against the San Francisco 49ers for missing curfew, and made both players run stadium steps as further punishment.

They weren’t going to play, so they needed a workout,” Fisher said, per a report from SI.com's Peter King. “And I guess you can say it was part punitive. We still have to sort some things out about what happened, but hopefully this helps them get the message.”

The Rams played the 49ers to a tie that day, and it could be argued that from a record perspective, Fisher sold himself short by denying himself one of his best defensive players. But from a long-term view -- which is what Fisher must take -- it was a resounding success. Since his suspension, Jenkins has three interceptions, and he's returned them all for touchdowns. That tied a Rams franchise record also held by Monte Jackson in 1976, and Rod Perry in 1978. Among rookies, only Ronnie Lott and Lem Barney have trucked as many picks to the house in NFL history, and that's pretty impressive company.

More important than the splash plays is how Jenkins has come around as a play-to-play defender. He will occasionally rely too much on his pure physical skills at times, and veteran receivers will tie him in knots once in a while, but you can clearly see the progression. He played all 81 defensive snaps in last Sunday's 28-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in the team's regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks (which actually does have some very faint playoff implications for the 7-7-1 Rams), he'll be the main man Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is looking to avoid.

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"Some guys make mistakes and don't make any big plays," Rams defensive end Chris Long recently said of his teammate. "So, I'll take the guy that's scored four touchdowns this year. He's got a really bright future. He's done a great job of just being mature and continuing to work at his craft. He's grown up a lot this year."

"He's a huge playmaker," Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "Any time that ball is up, he has a play to make on the ball. He's proven that over the course of the season, and I think he's just going to turn into a great pro if he just keeps working at it and stays humble."

With the support of the players around him, and a coach who will accept nothing less than his best on and off the field, Janoris Jenkins has the potential to make a resounding and long-term impact in the NFL. After a few early hiccups, all signs seem to be positive.

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