Way back in April of 2008, the Dallas Cowboys were sitting on two first-round picks in the draft. At the time, the thought was they needed a running back and a cornerback, and many, including me, had predicted the Cowboys would go with Felix Jones at running back, and choose from a group of corners that included University of South Florida's Mike Jenkins. As it came to pass, Dallas did select Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins.
The Cowboys had spent too many seasons with Terence Newman at one cornerback, and somebody - anybody - else at the other cornerback spot. None of those names were able to grab the position outright, for an extended basis; the last stop-gap being the mistake of adding Adam "Don't call me Pacman" Jones. So in the middle of his rookie season the Cowboys inserted Mike Jenkins into the lineup. Given his ups-and-downs of manning the position that year, only one thing truly sticks out from that campaign - Mike Jenkins absolutely giving up on a touchdown run by the Giants Derrick Ward. He was excoriated in the press and by Cowboys fans, and many wondered if the Cowboys had made a blunder in taking the talented corner.
Fortunately for Dallas, Jenkins was able to put that incident, and the 2008 season, behind him; in 2009 he turned into a star at corner and made the Pro Bowl. Jenkins displayed his remarkable athletic skills that year, which include his exceptional ball-skills, and made the Pro Bowl. It was thought by all that Jenkins was on his way to a stellar career. His ability to cover in man-to-man, his skill at recovering on a receiver to knock the ball away at the last moment was uncanny. Any thoughts that drafting him was a mistake were quickly dispelled.
Then came 2010. The Cowboys as a whole collapsed, and Jenkins did, too. His downfall started early in the season when he was repeatedly flagged for penalties. During the middle of the season, we noted that Jenkins' confidence had apparently left him, which is a death-knell for a cornerback. His poor technique that had led to many of the pass interference penalties had sapped him of his natural abilities, leaving a but a shell of the 2009 player we had all praised.
Then, it happened again. In the game against Green Bay, the one that finally got Wade Phillips fired, Jenkins made a "business decision" about tackling receiver James Jones near the endzone. Jones went on to score, Jenkins was widely condemned for soft, lackluster, disinterested play. As I noted at the time, if you're going to make a business decision like that at corner, you damn well better be playing up to Deion Sanders' level at corner. Jenkins clearly wasn't doing that.
We correctly guessed at the time that all the penalties and poor play had shaken Jenkins' confidence in 2010, and he even admitted as much during the season. Now, Dave Campo confirms it.
"Mike’s a young player, and sometimes things don’t go well and your confidence is not what it should be," secondary coach Dave Campo said. "I think that’s the biggest thing. I think if you look, the last half of the season he played much better than the first half of the season. I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll transition that to the next part of it"
"I think he got started slow with the penalties, that kind of spooked him a little bit and he didn’t play the way he’s capable of playing. I’m excited that he’s still a young player. Now, if the guy was a 10-year player and he wasn’t playing well, I’d be a little nervous. But I think he can respond."
So Mike Jenkins' short career in Dallas has been marked by inconsistency. Some tough times as a rookie, a golden second-year, and a disaster third-year. What can we expect from Jenkins in his fourth-year?
Well, if you listen to his new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, one thing we can expect is no more "business decisions".
"They'll have to be cover guys first in our system and they have to be accurate tacklers," Ryan said. "Anything other than that, that's not us. We have to get tremendous players out there on the corner and be able to shut down receivers and again be accurate tacklers.
"There is no place in football for a coward and it's definitely not on a corner for us. It's a marquee position and that's what it is here and in the NFL."
That's about as straight-forward as you'll get. In Rob Ryan's defense, corners obviously have to cover, but they have to be aggressive and accurate tacklers. There are no cowards on Ryan's defense.
Is Mike Jenkins the right corner for Ryan and the Cowboys? Will his roller-coaster performance of good and bad be on the upswing again in 2011?
What say you, BTB?