Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dallas Cowboys' Jenkins learning angles as corner

By Todd Archer

IRVING – The first change about Mike Jenkins is easy to notice.

He no longer wears No. 31, but not because former Cowboys safety Roy Williams jokingly told him the number was jinxed. Jenkins switched to No. 21 after the release of Adam Jones as a tribute to former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who died two years ago.

"He was a good friend of mine, a good mentor," Jenkins said. "He was one of my favorite players, so when the number opened up, I went for it."

The second change in Jenkins is not so easy to detect from the outside.

"I think Mike Jenkins has grown maturity-wise in one year," Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo said. "I think he understands what the NFL is all about right now."

Jenkins was the second of two Cowboys first-round draft picks in 2008. He was taken No. 25 overall, after the Cowboys selected Felix Jones with the 22nd pick. However, Jenkins was not the rookie cornerback who was most talked about last season.

That was Orlando Scandrick, the fifth-round pick, who slid comfortably into the nickel role and exceeded expectations.

Jenkins started three games, missed two because of a hamstring injury, was credited with 22 tackles and six pass deflections and returned his only interception for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

But what was talked about more was Jenkins shying away from a tackle of former Giants running back Derrick Ward.

Jenkins said he never felt like the player he was at South Florida – a first-team all-Big East pick and finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back. And he had to watch another friend, Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, excel and make it to the Super Bowl.

"When I got here, I was pretty much like a freshman again," Jenkins said. "I was trying to learn the system, trying not to mess up, thinking too much and making mistakes. Right now, I'm in my own skin, making my own consequences."

And the Cowboys did not use Jenkins' skills to their fullest, according to coach Wade Phillips.

"He's got great ability, especially with long arms and being able to get up and bump," Phillips said. "He did that well last year. We just didn't let him do it all the time.

"We'll get him up on people a lot because he's so fast, and he's got such long arms that he could release off the line of scrimmage and if you got off, he can catch up with you."

When the Cowboys traded Anthony Henry to Detroit for quarterback Jon Kitna this off-season, they did it with the belief that Jenkins – or Scandrick – could take over the spot opposite Terence Newman.

"They're as gifted as any corners I've been around," Phillips said, "and I've been around quite a few good ones."

Throughout organized team activities, Jenkins and Scandrick have split work with the first-team defense, and that will continue through training camp.

"Now they're putting the whole world on me and Orlando coming out here battling right now," Jenkins said. "I feel comfortable at my position."

And if he does not win the job?

"I'd be disappointed in myself," Jenkins said. "That would be the only person I can hold that against."