CB Mike Jenkins took about as big a leap as you can make a season ago — from down-and-out rookie to Pro Bowl performer. Jenkins was so inconsistent as a rookie, he was outplayed by Orlando Scandrick and had to battle just to earn a starting job the next season. But he was so good last season, he could take on both quick and physical receivers one-on-one and not have to think but just to react. Jenkins said he also had to learn how to be a pro after that trying first season.
"I think I was more game-ready and just knew better what to expect and how to prepare better," Jenkins told PFW. "When you get in a new scheme, there's going to be a lot of thinking because you really don't know where your help is coming from. Really, you're just out there trying to impress the coaches and trying not to mess up. Once you get into the system and get your leeway, you can just play how you know how to play."
Now he's one of the young stars on one of the league's most talented defenses and he expects to remain at this level for a long time. He's happy that the bar has been raised heading into his third season and expects to continue drawing those tough assignments.
Jenkins points back to Week Three last season when the Cowboys played the Panthers. Jenkins was asked to shadow Muhsin Muhammad while Terence Newman drew Steve Smith, a tougher assignment. Jenkins had a good game, including one interception, but he said he wanted to cover Smith, knowing Smith was the Panthers' best receiver. But he also realized he had to prove to the coaching staff that they could trust him to handle such as assignment.
"I knew I had played well in camp and the preseason, but they still had to see me in action, doing things the right way. I had to earn (those tough assignments)," Jenkins said. "I always knew I had the ability to be a great cornerback."
Now he prefers to play man, head-to-head against quality receivers, and wants to become the best corner in the NFL. Jenkins said he likes the fact that head coach Wade Phillips used more man coverage last season.
"I played a lot of man coverage in college, and I think that's what got me prepared. Wade, he likes to blitz and play pressure (schemes). And I think once he figured out what kind of cornerbacks he had and what we could do, he played a lot of man.
"I love being up in a (receiver's) face. I'd rather play man than (zone) coverage anytime."
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.