SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The impressive progression of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins can be summed up in a single sentence from his coach.
“He went from a guy that didn’t tackle anybody against the Giants to in the Pro Bowl,” coach Wade Phillips said.
One of the moments that stands out in Jenkins’ rookie season two years ago came in New York, where he clearly avoided contact when a Giants receiver was headed to the end zone late in a lopsided loss. That play got noticed more than the interception Jenkins returned for a score earlier in the game.
Jenkins then made it to the Pro Bowl last season, which began with the Cowboys undecided between Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick and planning to alternate them as starters. But Jenkins took over as the starter for good in Week 3, and went on to have 60 tackles while leading the team with five interceptions and 23 pass breakups.
That breakthrough after the disappointing rookie season didn’t surprise Jenkins.
“I was battling with myself, I know there was a lot of people going against me … nobody really behind me,” Jenkins said. “I was a first-round draft pick, I came in and the first year really wasn’t. I didn’t play much so a lot of people doubted me from that and then I came in (last year) and I just played the way I know how to play and that’s it.”
Phillips said Jenkins has emerged as “a shutdown-type corner.”
The Cowboys drafted Jenkins 25th overall the same weekend they completed a deal for Adam “Pacman” Jones, who wore the No. 21 jersey Jenkins now has.
Jones wasn’t cleared by the NFL to play until the end of that preseason. When he was, his presence contributed to stifling Jenkins’ initial progress and shaking his confidence by taking away playing time.
“He went through a process that a lot of young guys go through,” Phillips said. “They come in, especially No. 1 pick, and feel like they are going to go out and start right now. Boom, go play just like you did in college. When he wasn’t playing I think that set him back mentally.”
Going into his third season, there are no longer any doubts from Jenkins or the Cowboys.
“Big difference, big difference,” said Patrick Crayton, a receiver who goes against him every day in practice. “I think his confidence got up. I think he started realizing it’s a man’s game. I think he locked in, got focused and he just came prepared.”
Jones was let go after one unspectacular season that included another NFL suspension. But he left some encouraging words for Jenkins that the young cornerback embraced.
“He just told me I was really gifted, and I should just go out and just play and not think,” Jenkins said. “I did that last year and had a great season.”
With Jones and Anthony Henry both gone before last year’s camp, Jenkins and Scandrick had the only real position battle. Both 5-foot-10 corners had started three games as rookies and the coaches determined they were so close last summer that they would open the 2009 season alternating starts at right cornerback opposite veteran Terence Newman.
That lasted only a few weeks.
“He excelled. We had a little position battle last year and he took his opportunity and he maximized on it,” said Scandrick, the fifth-round pick in the same draft as Jenkins. “He holds himself to high standards. I’ve got all the respect in the world for him. I’ve never had any hard feelings. We’re about as close as friends as me and anybody on this team.”
Jenkins had an interception, five tackles and a pass breakup in his second turn to start last season _ and has stayed in that role since.
“He made a big jump from the first year,” secondary coach Dave Campo said. “I told Mike when he first came here, you stick with me and us and you’ll be in the Pro Bowl, but you’ve got to buy into what we’re doing. He certainly did that.”
While there is no real competition in camp this time, with Jenkins starting and Scandrick still the nickel cornerback, Jenkins insists that he hasn’t changed his mindset from last year when there was that unorthodox arrangement.
“I’m keeping the same mentality,” Jenkins said. “I don’t want to change anything. I just want to stay humble.”