Alabama football coach Nick SabanÂ seemingly loved the old-school intensity that Anfernee Jennings brought to the gridiron in Tuscaloosa.
Jennings, who the Patriots drafted in the third-round of the 2020 NFL Draft last month, showcased both the tenacity and skillset to thrive as an edge rusher — doing so as an outside linebacker or defensive end.
The Crimson Tide coach linked him to one former Alabama product, Courtney Upshaw, a second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, because of Jennings’ “competitive character.”
âOne thing about those guys, they practice like the 1920s,â Saban told The Athletic’s Jeff Howe in an extensive featureÂ on Jennings published Monday.
âSo when you get them, youâre getting a tough guy because they grew up. Flexibility is not part of the problem. Itâs, âLetâs run up the hill and letâs scrimmage.â Iâve watched these guys practice and Iâm saying, âMan, this is a throwback practice,'” Saban said. “Thatâs why (Jennings) is tough, and thatâs why he has the competitive character that he has.”
That competitiveness, and ultimately the work ethic that came with it, continued to impress one of the best-ever college football coaches. It’s not every day that a player will depict the talent, and the drive to go along with it, according to Saban.
âThat doesnât always happen with some of the best players that you have in college,â Saban said. âHe never felt entitled, never was anything but, âWhat can I do to help the team?â Those are the kinds of guys you want on your team.â
Jennings’ resilience was another aspect Saban grew to admire.
The Crimson Tide product suffered what was thought to be a career-altering knee injury back on New Year’s Day in 2018. But with Jennings benefitting by no ligament or nerve damage, he returned to the field eight months later for the 2018 season. Jennings ultimately showed more of his usual, pre-injury self during the 2019 season in which he led the Tide in both sacks (career-high eight) and tackles for loss (12 1/2) to go along with a career-high 83 tackles.
âThat really shows his true character, his perseverance as a person,â Saban told The Athletic.Â âOne of the reasons he decided to come back and play another year here was he thought he could continue to develop physically after that injury. I thought he did have a really good year for us this year, and I thought it paid off for him.â
Now the Patriots, and fans alike, hope those traits that Jennings showcased in Alabama will help carry him in New England.