HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Kris Jenkins really loves to eat. He's quick to acknowledge his passionate palate, and the proof is right there in a big, green No. 77 jersey.
"I'm a food person," the New York Jets' hefty defensive tackle said Thursday. "I think I've got like a second career whenever I retire as a food critic."
And people would certainly trust his dining suggestions. You don't get to 360 pounds without eating your share of savory and rib-sticking meals. Maybe Jenkins should consider a "Kookin' With Kris" show after he's done with football.
"No, man," he said with a laugh. "They don't want me in the kitchen burning it down."
Actually, Jenkins is a lot more health conscious these days. He's about 30 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season with Carolina, when he tipped the scales at over 390.
"It's getting to the point in my career now where every little bit helps, especially when you're getting the double teams often," he said. "It's helping alleviate the pressure on my joints and I feel great. Doing what I've done now, I wouldn't go back the other way."
When the Jets acquired the 6-foot-4 Jenkins from the Panthers for third- and fifth-round picks, coach Eric Mangini told him to be at 360 when he reported for organized team activities. Jenkins, expected to be a nose tackle in the Jets' 3-4 defensive scheme after playing in the Panthers' 4-3 most of his career, hit the diet trail.
"One of the things I realized was that I can't eat less to lose weight," Jenkins said after the second OTA open to the media. "I have to eat right. So, everything's whole grains and things like that. I have to eat my carbs. I have to do the things I always do, but I just have to make sure the food I put into my body is good food."
That means no more white rice, greasy burgers, cheesy omelets or sugary cereals.
"If I do go to a sushi restaurant, I get the sashimi instead of the sushi with the rice on it," he said. "Certain things like that, I just have to change what I eat. For breakfast cereal, no Fruity Pebbles. I go for the Fiber One. Things like that, eggwhite omelets and taking the yolks out."
Weight has always been an issue for the 28-year-old Jenkins, who frequently had conflicts with Carolina coaches because of it. Jenkins, who said there's no bad blood between him and the Panthers, made a conscious decision to finally drop the pounds because of his fiancee, Tashia, and three children.
"Eating isn't just about football," he said. "It's a way of life and I want to be around for my kids. To me, they're more important to me than all of this, and that's what I used to motivate me to get the weight down."
Make no mistake about it: Jenkins is still a big man, there's just less of him -- and he plans to lose more before the season begins. He's surprisingly quick and agile, and even Mangini was impressed, saying last week: "He makes 360 look good. I wish I could say the same. He's a fluid athlete, especially for someone his size."
Jenkins' size was actually one of the major reasons the Jets went after him. After two seasons of unsuccessfully trying to convert 315-pound lineman Dewayne Robertson into a nose tackle, New York decided to plug in a guy who fit the physical description of the position. Confident he'd do the job, the Jets signed Jenkins to a five-year, $35 million contract extension the day they acquired him.
"Right now, it's different," Jenkins said. "My whole career except my rookie year, I've always played a single-gap defense. You just go up field and disrupt. Now, it's fun. I love the challenge because now I have to be basically the stud."
Mangini said Jenkins has been committed to making the conversion from defensive tackle, where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
"He's doing a good job," Mangini said. "It takes some time to understand how to two-gap. ... He's working at it and we see some progress there as well."
The hope is that Jenkins will shore up the run defense, which struggled last season, by providing a space-eating body that teams have to double team. That will free up the other linemen, as well as the linebackers.
"I'm not concerned," he said. "I think once I get more comfortable in the defense and as camp goes on and everything, I'll get familiar with it and pick up the speed a little bit."
Meanwhile, Jenkins is using the health kick to discover new foods and cooking products, such as the one he was excited to share with reporters.
"I'm learning about truffle oil right now," he said. "That's something different. It's olive oil, but they infuse it with truffles, so it's real healthy. It's heart healthy. It tastes so good."
Hey, if Jenkins says so, you've got to trust the man.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press