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Bengals Rookie DT Kris Jenkins Jr. Digs In To Continue Family's NFL Legacy    

Carolina Panthers' Kris Jenkins, left, walks as his son, Kris, 2, wears his dad's jersey and helmet after practice during the team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Carolina Panthers' Kris Jenkins, left, walks as his son, Kris, 2, wears his dad's jersey and helmet after practice during the team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Images. Snapshots. Freeze frames. Piece together the memories and you get a collage of the Jenkins NFL family album.

For Bengals rookie defensive tackle Kris Jenkins Jr., projected in a rotation at both the nose and three-technique of his Pro Bowl strongman father with the slippery style of his Super Bowl champion uncle, the first flicker came fast and furious.

A month before he turned three.

Sept. 13, 2004. Monday night in Charlotte. The NFL opener. His dad, Kris Sr., starting his fourth NFL season for the Panthers in the game that turned out to be the pro debut of Uncle Cullen for the Packers.

Young Kris can look it up now. His father coming in as one of the best players in the league after back-to-back All-Pro selections and getting a sack in the Panthers' first game since the Super Bowl heartbreak against the Patriots. Cullen getting in on two tackles in the first of 184 games and 13 openers, this one a win for The Pack.

"Of course, I don't remember the game," says Kris, both bubbly and savvy, after a voluntary practice at his new address. "Bits and pieces. Here and there. I remember it was special being down on the field after it was over."

Kris Jenkins Sr., who played in 108 games while named to four Pro Bowls before injuries overtook his career, still has a picture in his mind from about the same vintage.

"It's out there somewhere. You can find it," says Senior as he describes it from memory. "We're coming off the practice field. I've got blue shoulder pads. Shells. And he's wearing my helmet and practice jersey and I'm holding his hand."

The unfurled No. 77 and massive helmet engulfs young Kris. But the kid, drafted five picks later than his dad in the second round off a national championship season at Michigan, is used to being draped in legacy.

"For me wanting to be a football player, there's always pressure that comes with that," Kris Jenkins Jr. says two decades later "There's always going to be pressure. That's never going to change. But I'm blessed to have that mindset around me at a young age."

Cullen Jenkins recalls a much more recent image. He saw it from one of the videos he glimpsed of Kris in the Bengals' spring voluntary workouts.

"We're a very silly family. Smiling. I think that's where he gets his personality," Cullen says. "A lot of people are always surprised after they meet you in person. That was you on the field? I work with kids and I'm a bigger kid than they are, but people don't know there's that switch inside. When that switch goes off, it's all business.

"You can see it in his face. I was just watching him doing drills and you can just see the intensity you've never seen in any other part of life."

The way it worked out, the 6-3, 300-pound Kris inherited much of his game from his 6-2, 305-pound uncle. He's still seeking to add his dad's ferocious frame of mind that topped off a mountainous 6-4, 360 pounds.

"His mindset is a gladiator's and that's an area I'm trying to work at, too. That gladiator mindset," his son says. "It didn't matter if you tried to double-team him, triple-team him. Whatever. He's getting the job done. He doesn't care who you are."

When you mention Kris Jenkins Sr., the tones are reverential. Including from the younger brother.

"His dad was fierce," Cullen Jenkins says.

Bengals special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Darrin Simmons was with the Panthers for the first two seasons of Jenkins' career. He also worked in the weight room as well as assisting Carolina's special teams.

"Super, super, super strong. He was a big, big, big man. Big," Simmons says. "Super physical. Really held the point of attack."

The son doesn't have those 60 pounds, but Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby, seeking to replace nose tackle DJ Reader, has been impressed enough with his strength to talk to him about being one of the answers at nose tackle.

"I'm not going in there. He might have to," Hobby says. "He's comfortable in there. I talked to him about it. He says, 'Coach, no problem. That's second nature to me.' I think he can swing anywhere he wants to swing in there. He's strong enough. Sometimes it's beating them to the punch. It's not so much heaviness, it's getting hands on them before they get their hands on me."

Cullen Jenkins sees a merger of images.

"It's weird because it's almost like he's a combination of me and his father," Cullen says. "Where he's got my size and build, he's got a lot of the strength his dad had. Powerful and holds the point of attack. It's pretty cool watching it."

Kris Jenkins Sr. knows all about adjusting from the collegiate point to the punishing pros. While at Maryland he played in an aggressive scheme and then had to transition to Carolina's read-and-react defense as an interior player. He called the adjustment the most painful task of his career. When Jack Del Rio became the Panthers' defensive coordinator in Jenkins' second season and unleashed a line that included rookie and future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Julius Peppers, he thought it ignited his career.

The Bengals mix it up according to opponent and situation. It has similarities to Michigan's read-and-react scheme, but Hobby fosters that aggressive get-up-the-field approach.

"I've got every confidence in the world he'll adjust and he'll have his opportunity to write his name in the books," Jenkins Sr. says. "I think once he gets used to it, it's easy because when you can fire out, disruption is just as good, as long as you maintain gap control.

"I think he'll figure out how to play half a man. The worst of it is going to be the double-team reads. He'll be fine as long as he has good technique, I think he should be fine."

He grew up talking technique. After Kris Jr.'s sophomore year at Michigan, he realized he looked and played a lot like his uncle and he began seeing how he could take advantage of his speed and quickness. One advantage is he has Cullen telling him about his own rookie year. Like when he played the monstrous side of the Cowboys offensive line with 340-pound Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen and 340-pound tackle Flozell Adams.

"I know for my game it was all about quickness and explosiveness because of my size," Cullen says. "I knew the double team was coming, but I know who I am. I'm not about to get into a strength competition with those folks. I knew my technique. Being able to get low, turn, drop the knee, doing that type of stuff was my strength. Learning how to use what some people might see as a disadvantage to your advantage."

Kris Jenkins Jr., drafted as much for his intangibles in the locker room as his work in the trenches, knows there is a high bar. Despite being the heartbeat of a national championship defense, he's not ready to don his dad's gladiator helmet.

"There are flashes," he says of that mentality. "I still have yet to do anything at this level. He's already done that. Now it's my turn. Especially in this (draft and rookie) process, they've both been great father figures for me, especially my dad."

Kris Jenkins Sr. hopes he finds his own spot to line up.

"The man that he becomes is going to be totally up to him," Senior says. "It gets lonely on the field sometimes. Other than your teammates, your coaches are breathing down your neck and nobody's there to save you when it starts getting tough. He'll have every opportunity to be the man that he wants to be.

"I'm proud of him. I'm really proud to see what he's accomplished on his own considering who we are as a family as a football legacy. I think that's going to be the big deal with him. Seeing who he is."

Hobby, the position coach, sees a portrait being painted.

"He's conscientious. He gets after it. You can tell they've been working with him since he was young," Hobby says. "There's nothing like DNA."