INDIANAPOLIS — "And starting at middle linebacker for the [insert your team name here], standing at 6-foot-2, weighing 256 pounds, it's Anfernee Jennings!"
Is this possible? Is this even allowed? It could be well on its way: Jennings is getting numerous teams asking him if he can step off the ball, play a little SAM linebacker, and even line up as the MIKE.
Jennings played the JACK role in the Alabama defense, which he described as a 3-4 base. The JACK linebacker is the hybrid role player that is responsible for a variety of things such as rushing the passer, setting an edge against the run or dropping back into short zones when interior blitzes are coming. It's a bit of a misnomer. The JACK linebacker doesn't actually, you know, back the line; he's almost invariably on the line of scrimmage with varying degrees of width.
But teams are curious about Jennings in a true linebacking role, and as he says, they want to see him "going forward," implying that whether he's on- or off-ball, he's at his best downhill in a physical role.
The interest is so strong that Jennings actually played true MIKE linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals when working for them at the 2020 Senior Bowl, which meant he was responsible for manning the all-important green dot: the sticker on the back of the helmet that indicates radio signals are coming off the sideline and into the earpiece of the helmet to communicate play calls.
"It was something new, but it was cool," Jennings said Thursday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. "It was just working each and every day to learn what they did."
But the role of communicating play calls and checks isn't entirely foreign to Jennings.
"I kinda did that at 'Bam,” he said. “Not being a MIKE, but at my position, especially last year with us having young guys who stepped up at inside linebacker, I had to be somebody that could communicate calls across the board. So it was really an easy transition."
The Nick Saban defense does certainly push prospects through the wringer of difficult terminology and in-play checks. When speaking on learning the mental and communicative aspects of his position — and remember, as a hybrid JACK player, Jennings had a ton of responsibilities and checks to learn.
"I definitely got a feel for it by going out, making mistakes, and learning from them,” he said. “Continuing to always be in the playbook and making that imperative. … The spring of 2016, my first year I just really watched the guys and did as much as I could. I learned as much as I could, and I had a great amount of confidence in it."
Now, Jennings will potentially be tasked with learning a new playbook from an entirely different paradigm: primarily playing in an off-ball role. The idea that a 260-pound Jennings could survive in an off-ball role, even rotational, is foolish. He isn't an elite athlete at that size in terms of quickness and explosion and would be filling a role typically occupied by players at least 10 pounds his inferior.
If Jennings is going to take the majority of his snaps at SAM in a 4-3, or MIKE in a 3-4 defense, he'll need to continue to shed weight.
Jennings played around this weight last year, listing 252 as his lowest mass. Even then, more weight would need to be lost, and Jennings would lose some of his efficacy as a subpackage pass-rusher if he dropped in strength, as he currently wins with power and would need to develop a more active speed rush, or improved technique, to make an impact there.
The road off the line of scrimmage and into the stack is tough, but Jennings is well on his way from the cerebral aspects of the game.
The green dot belongs to a captain of the defense, who not only plays his game well but wins by getting all 11 players on the same page and working to the same goal. Jennings' best trait is now between his ears, and as he goes through this week's interviews, he must continue to prove that he has the smarts to return on a team's patient investment in the reimagining for his NFL body.