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January 18, 2018

Malcolm Jenkins the unquestioned leader of the Eagles locker room

There's no question that Carson Wentz is the face of the Philadelphia Eagles. There's also no question that, when healthy (and maybe even when he's not), he's one of the leaders, despite being in just his second season. 

However, it's quite clear that he isn't the only leader in that locker room. And when Wentz went down with a torn ACL back in Week 14, his defensive counterpart, ninth-year safety and defensive captain Malcolm Jenkins spoke to his teammates immediately following their win over the Rams.

"Well, first off, that was the night we won the [NFC] East. It was a huge milestone for us," Jenkins said Thursday. "Knowing that the media was getting ready to come in right after that and everything that they would want to talk about – How do you move forward? What's going on with your guys’ dream? Is it over? – those seeds of doubt, words of doubt were getting ready to come. So what I wanted to make sure was that there was a message of confidence and perspective before they had to actually address the media to let everybody know that, yes, let's get this out of the way.

"Obviously, we all hurt for Carson. It's a huge blow to the team, but in no way does it change our goals. No way does it change our demeanor which we're going to do our work. Nothing's changed, and that was kind of the message."

The Eagles had just lost an MVP candidate at the most important position, not just in football but in any sport, and here was Jenkins, telling them not to worry. 

Whatever he said, it clearly worked. 

That was hardly Jenkins' first postgame address to his teammates – he's been doing it all season. He's not sure how exactly he became the team's weekly speaker, but it appears it's at least in part a result of Pederson's faith in Jenkins as a leader. That, and some superstition.

"Last year, I think we called on different guys," said Jenkins, who was named to his second Pro Bowl this season. "This year, I think the first week [Pederson] called on me and then the next week he called on me. Then after a while it was like we're very superstitious football players. So when you're winning, you don't change anything, and I end up kind of just being that guy. 

"Obviously, it's a role that I embrace."

So what goes into Jenkins' postgame speeches?

"Most of it is just kind of off of my heart," he said. "I kind of try to analyze the situation of where we are as a team, do a little bit of reflection, but make sure that it's not just an emotional response to keep everybody in perspective. Just because it's easy to get too high or too low after a win or loss. It's easy to start to listen to all of the things that people are getting ready to say. A lot of times I'm talking to myself to be most honest."

But Jenkins, 30, doesn't just lead off the field; he leads on the field as well.

"I just think he's embraced it. I think now the guys embrace it," Pederson said. "I don't necessarily say, 'Malcolm, break the team down,' or, 'Talk to the team.' I think it's just him being Malcolm and being a leader of this football team, and being one of the guys that they look to for that leadership. He's embraced it and guys look forward to it, obviously. He's been good. 

"He's got a lot of profound messages as you've seen. He speaks from the heart and he speaks truth."

While Jenkins is the vocal leader of the locker room, he's not the only veteran other players look up to. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, for example, isn't giving postgame speeches like Jenkins, but that doesn't mean he isn't a leader. 

After all, there's more than one way to lead.  

"I mean, sometimes, me and Malcolm are two different guys," Cox said. "Malcolm, he's more of a vocal guy. He gets things done. When he talks, I listen. When I talk, he listens. The thing I've learned from Malcolm is being a leader is not just about all rah-rah. It's not just being about the oldest person on the defense. Being a leader is going out, getting your job done and holding each other accountable. I think we both do a great job of that."

Jenkins isn't just leading the team, he's teaching others how to be leaders as well. The importance of that can't be understated.

Having multiple leaders inside the locker room has enabled the Eagles to withstand more than just the loss of Carson Wentz. It's also helped them get over injuries to veterans like Darren Sproles and Jason Peters on offense, as well as Jordan Hicks on defense and Chris Maragos on special teams.

It seems like no matter the injury, the Eagles keep finding ways to win.

Some of that comes from the top, like Howie Roseman's award-winning roster construction or Pederson's ability to coach to the team's strengths. But it also comes from inside the locker room, specifically from guys like Jenkins – the type of guy other players turn to in the face of adversity.

So perhaps it's appropriate that the team's unofficial motto for the 2017 season has been, "We all we got; We all we need." 

Maybe it's not so unofficial anymore...

The first part – "we all we got" – has been around for a little while, according to Jenkins. But the second part – "we all we need" – stems from the underdog role the team has found itself playing this season. Sure, there was a time this season when the Birds were the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. 

Back when the season started, however, not many people were giving them a shot. And once Wentz's season came to a screeching halt, the Eagles once again found themselves as the underdogs. 

"The last couple of years I felt like we've said ‘we all we got,’ we’ve said that over and over," Jenkins explained. "Then this year, as we just kind of got closer to the season we added the ‘we're all we need,’ just because from the beginning we didn't feel like anybody gave us a chance. We felt like we were underdogs. The questions were always is this a rebuilding year or a building year. What is Carson going to be? What is the defense going to be? So we always focused on the guys we had in the huddle."

In Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, the Eagles are again home underdogs. But at this point, they're used to it. 

"I think, obviously, that mentality is coming in handy for us – it's been handy for us all year," Jenkins added. "Losing the amount of guys that we've lost and facing a lot the adversity that we have, to have that mentality that we are sufficient, that the guys we have in this room can get it done, no matter what's in front of us, has kind of been the storyline of this team. Obviously, I think everybody has kind of embraced that mentality."

In a few short days, we'll find out if all they've got is truly all they need.

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