Much has changed in the last year for Mike Jenkins.
He doesn’t have to compete to crack the starting lineup. He’s no longer known as the guy who got out of the way on a touchdown run in a loss to the New York Giants.
With a spectacular second season, Jenkins jumped onto lists of the league’s top young cornerbacks, quieting critics in the process. He started the season sharing a starting job with Orlando Scandrick – an arrangement that lasted only two weeks – and ended it in the Pro Bowl.
Now what for the 2008 first-round pick? Jenkins said he’ll try to keep the same mentality, the same hunger, but he’ll have to find different sources of motivation.
“I’ve got a Pro Bowl under my belt, so that’s one of the goals I don’t even have to work for,” Jenkins said. “I feel like my job right now is easier, so I don’t have to work as hard. I can just go on and ride that roller-coaster and keep playing.”
It could be considered worrisome anytime a player, particularly a young one, says he doesn’t have to work as hard.
However, those words aren’t indicative of the job Jenkins did on the practice field this offseason. Secondary coach Dave Campo didn’t see much difference in Jenkins’ approach to OTAs and minicamp.
“I don’t think he’s changed at all, to be honest with you,” Campo said. “If you watch him out there, he does everything like he’s going to do in the game. That’s the thing I like about him the best. He really competes. He does not like to get beat.”
Jenkins, who led the Cowboys with five interceptions last season, still has plenty of room for growth. Campo said Jenkins’ technique is good, but can be better. But Campo believes Jenkins is just tapping into his potential with the mental aspect of playing cornerback, something that should come with experience.
“I thought John Wooden had a great saying: ‘The best thing you learn is after you know it all,’” Campo said, using a bit of wisdom from the recently deceased UCLA basketball coaching legend. “With [Jenkins], it will be a continuous process of learning.”
That’s true as long as Jenkins is willing to put in the work.
Jenkins wasn’t pleased that it took a few NFC cornerbacks pulling out of the Pro Bowl for him to get an invitation, but any bitterness about the selection process has long passed. Forget about that as motivational fodder.
One of Jenkins’ goals is to be better than Terence Newman, whom he considers a role model. Many would say that torch was passed last season, but Newman got the Pro Bowl nod as an alternate before Jenkins.
Scandrick’s presence pushed Jenkins a year ago, but their roles are clearly defined now. Jenkins’ starting job is secure. His challenge is to avoid being satisfied after emerging as a star.
“I always want to be the best guy,” Jenkins said, giving a glimpse of the competitiveness that Campo loves.