Taylor: Mike Jenkins gives Cowboys a shutdown corner

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Taylor: Mike Jenkins gives Cowboys a shutdown corner
Jean-Jacques Taylor (Dallasnews.com)

SAN ANTONIO – If we’re honest, Mike Jenkins is the player we thought Terence Newman would become when the Cowboys drafted him in 2003.

Obviously, Newman is a really good player who’s capable of starting for any team in the league, which is why he’s played in two Pro Bowls.

But Jenkins is easily the Cowboys’ best cornerback.

Understand, Jenkins didn’t ask for that title. Actually, he hasn’t uttered one word about being the team’s best cornerback, though one day he wants to be mentioned in any conversation about the NFL’s best cornerbacks the way players, coaches, analysts and fans talk about Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha and Champ Bailey.

The top cornerbacks do more than control opposing receivers. They make plays.

That’s where Jenkins edges Newman.

“[Jenkins] plays with an attitude that says he should go get the ball,” secondary coach Dave Campo said. “When he’s running with a receiver and the ball is in the air, he’s looking at the ball – not the receiver.

“A lot of cornerbacks won’t do that because they’re concerned about the receiver, not the ball. That’s how he gets interceptions or knocks the ball down. He’s a playmaker.”

Jenkins, entering his third season, intercepted five passes and deflected 19 more last season. Just so you know, Newman has never intercepted more than four passes, and he hasn’t had more than 19 pass deflections since his rookie season.

According to Stats, opposing quarterbacks were 51-of-107 for 643 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 53.6 against Jenkins. Against Newman, quarterbacks were 48-of-93 for 698 yards with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 72.8.

Jenkins is emerging as one of the league’s top cornerbacks for one reason: He can’t be intimidated because getting beat doesn’t affect him.

Catch a pass on him and Jenkins thinks it’s a fluke. Make it five receptions. Or 10.

It still wouldn’t matter.

“I read a quote from him last year that said he wasn’t scared to get beat,” Campo said. “As soon as I read that, I knew he was ready to take his game beyond where he had been playing.

“Some guys get a little nervous about giving up a play, but when you have so much confidence that you’re not afraid to get beat, it allows you to play at a whole different level.”

It takes a special mind-set for a cornerback to get in a receiver’s face play after play and dare him to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, but that’s what Jenkins does.

The beauty of Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme is that he gives players the freedom to accentuate their strengths. Since Jenkins embraces the danger that accompanies playing close to the line of scrimmage, Phillips lets him do it.

Newman prefers to play a few yards off the line of scrimmage. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a difference in approach.

“Playing bump-and-run gives me a chance to be physical,” said Jenkins, who played safety in high school and as a college freshman.

“You have to let a receiver know that you’re going to be physical the whole game. You can’t take a play off and give him an opportunity to get comfortable.”

Jenkins can take that approach because he’s fast enough to recover on the rare occasions he gets beat off the line of scrimmage. And he’s good at jamming receivers and redirecting them, so it takes them longer to get into their routes and ruins the play’s timing.

He’s also a student of the game.

His spends practice working on the position’s nuances like hand placement – it matters where he thrusts his hands when he jams the receiver – and making sure his body is in position to turn and run.

“He’s not perfect,” said Phillips, “but he is a shutdown-type of cornerback.”

That’s why he’s the Cowboys’ best cornerback.

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