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Carolina Panthers

Combine notebook: Kris Jenkins Jr. following father's footsteps

Kris Jenkins

INDIANAPOLIS— Kris Jenkins Jr. said the right things as an NFL draft project. He pledged his future allegiance to whichever of the 32 possible teams might draft him in April. He promised that he would immediately become a "bandwagon fan" to the club that would take a chance on him. But there is one team that first captured his heart.

"So, I will say growing up though, I was a Panthers fan," the Michigan defensive lineman shared Wednesday at the NFL Combine.

It makes sense. Jenkins, if the name didn't give him away, is the son of Kris Jenkins Sr., former defensive tackle and second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, and an integral part to the club's Super Bowl XXXVIII run. Jenkins Sr. joined the Panthers in 2001. In his second season, he became a full-time starter, and finished with 44 total tackles, a career high seven sacks, and three passes defended. His 39 solo tackles the following year was a career high (46 total), and four passes defended, with a forced fumble and recovery, plus two blocked kicks, helped spearhead a defense the Panthers rode to the Super Bowl.

Jenkins Jr. is now a defensive tackle like his dad, and uncle (Cullen Jenkins, who also played in the NFL), a Michigan Wolverine National Champion, ready to take on the NFL. And although he was only 2 years old when the Super Bowl was played, it's one of his favorite games to watch of his dad's.

"When they played the Patriots, and he won't agree because unfortunately they lost the game, but we was watching that film…you just see on the film, he's in the backfield every single time;" the son said. "He's going through double teams, he's flying. I think they had him drop back into coverage. He was a freak athlete."

The Super Bowl may be the game Jenkins Jr. watches the most, but it's not the one he relives most commonly. That would be a 2005 matchup between his dad's Panthers, and his uncle's Green Bay Packers. The game, played in Charlotte, was a Monday Night Football showdown that saw the Panthers win in a close 32-29 matchup.

It's not the first game Kris Jenkins Jr. attended, but it's the first he actively remembers.

"I just remember that my dad and my uncle were playing against each other, so they were both on the field," he said. "It was just so cool being on the field, stepping out on the field, seeing these giants, because I was so little at the time. Seeing the crowd, the stadium, it was just such a surreal moment for me."

Over the years, the Kris Jenkins duo have worked together to get the younger into the league like his dad. Jenkins Sr. trains him, motivates him and helps guide him through the process. Now Jenkins Jr. is set to meet with teams, even former teammates of his dad, like Carolina Panthers general manager Dan Morgan.

"I've been fortunate enough to meet with them, meet with the squad," he said.

And every time, he thinks about that Panthers win from 2005, when he first began his love affair with the game.

Said Jenkins Jr.: "That's a moment that comes across my mind every now and then, just being from there and now being this being fortunate enough to be in this."

Kris Jenkins

Cedric Gray wants to "put on" for Charlotte

Cedric Gray was born in Maryland, but he was raised by Charlotte. The Ardrey Kell product spent his childhood in the Queen City, before making the short trip to Chapel Hill to play for North Carolina. He's one of several Charlotte natives invited to the annual Combine, a fact he hopes makes the city proud.

"It definitely makes this process easier, to have you guys that you played with in college. There's a few guys that I know here that I played with or against in high school," Gray shared on Wednesday. "So, it's definitely good to see some familiar faces and we can put on for the city of Charlotte."

Other Charlotte natives are slated to take the stage in the coming days. But Wednesday was an opportunity for Gray to share his story and journey from his home city to NFL prospect. A two-way player in high school, Gray was seen primarily as a wide receiver prospect. He wanted to play Power 5 ball though, so when the Tar Heels extended an offer, with the understanding he'd play linebacker in college, Gray fully committed to defense.

"it's always been my dream to play Power 5 football…I had a lot of FCS level offers at wide receiver. But I didn't really care, I really prided myself on being a football player. So whether it was at wide receiver or linebacker, it didn't matter to me.

"I came to UNC with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," Gray said. "I knew my opportunity would come. Could definitely see a lot of raw talent out there on the field my sophomore year and I think junior year I just tried to improve as a player…and I think it showed."

The two-time first team All-ACC player finished his final season with 121 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Cedric Gray

Adisa Isaac and the no pressure rush

Over the next two months, Adisa Isaac has the chance to establish himself as one of the more sought out after pass rushers in the draft class. The Penn State product was seen as a part of a 1-2 punch with Chop Robinson, while in Happy Valley. But Isaac's physical size and speed off the edge will help him stand out on his own through the Combine and draft process.

The pressure could easily hamper a lesser man. But Isaac has never felt pressure on the field, even when he was entering college as the highest rated player coming out of the state of New York.

"I started playing football in high school so, a lot of guys, they feel like it's a pressure to get out, but I was just having fun in high school. So that kind of alleviated some of that pressure coming out," Isaac said Wednesday at the Combine. "Obviously, I was rated really high coming out of New York, but I feel like just being myself, being relaxed, not putting too much thought into it and just doing what got me there in the first place, is going to help keep pushing me along."

Isaac is 6-4, 254 pounds, and developed into a starter as an upper grad. His final season with the Nittany Lions, Isaac finished with 37 tackles, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble. As he meets with more and more teams in a league desperate for pass rushers, Isaac is letting them know he's comfortable in any scheme at outside linebacker, as long as it gets him in the backfield.

"It depends on the scheme; some are 4-3, some are 3-4. I can play both. I'm really comfortable driving, really comfortable rushing obviously. I like to tip my hat on being versatile," Isaac shared. "I don't have a specific spot that I would like to be in. I would love to rush obviously, but I'm comfortable doing either."

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