Cowboys' Mike Jenkins Quickly Becoming Top NFL Cornerback
The last of that quintet plays opposite Jenkins in the Cowboys' secondary. Both players went to the Pro Bowl last season and, truth be told, there wasn't much (if any) difference between the level at which each player performed.
But don't expect to hear Jenkins, the former first-round pick from South Florida set to enter just his third season, speak to his place among the league's elite corners.
"No sir, I'm always thinking that I'm that second guy out here and pretty much battling still to get where I want to be," Jenkins said Sunday, the second day of Cowboys training camp at the Alamodome. "I keep that in my head when I come out here and play."
Others with stars on their helmets aren't so reluctant to praise the player who led the NFL's ninth-ranked defense in 2009 with five interceptions and 23 passes defensed, finishing with a career-best 60 tackles, also.
"Mike Jenkins shuts you down on his side," Dallas linebacker Brady James said. "He's very aggressive. Any ball thrown his way, he's competing. If he's not on the ball, he's right there making the tackle. Mike Jenkins is a player, man."
But in his quest to be a much, much better player on a defense that figures to be among the best in the game, Jenkins has a good role model in Newman, who in 2003 also came to the Cowboys as a first-round draft choice with expectations to match. Jenkins, a Dallas fan as a kid in Bradenton, Fla., has tracked Newman's career.
"He was one of my idols growing up, and it feels good for me to get out here and compete with him on the other side of the field," said Jenkins, a more physical, press-coverage player compared to Newman, who relies more on his pure speed and quickness. "As long as he's doing his thing and battling, I feel like I have to stay one step behind him and hopefully catch up to him one day."
How far behind is he?
"You tell me," Newman said.
The 2010 season will go a long way toward determining that. The Cowboys, who return 20 of 22 starters, are a heavy favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (in Dallas, no less). To get there, however, they'll likely need to address a glaring weakness from a year ago.
"We need more turnovers," Coach Wade Phillips said.
Last season, Dallas went 11-5, captured the NFC East Division with back-to-back shutouts to end the regular season and finished second in the NFL in points allowed at just 15.6 per game. The Cowboys did all that despite a measly 11 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries -- only four teams had fewer than those 21 takeaways -- which speaks to how much better the Cowboys could be if they were, say, just in the top half of the NFL in turnovers.
It will be an emphasis this season.
"It's something we think and talk about every day," said Jenkins, who was responsible for nearly half his team's picks a year ago. "It's embedded in our heads."
On Day 1 of camp Saturday, the defense came up with four interceptions in 7-on-7 drills, including a pair against Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo.
"Get more in practice, it will translate to games," Newman said.
As a group, what other secondary in the NFL will face a receiving corps the likes of Miles Austin, Jason Whitten, Patrick Crayton, Roy Williams and rookie sensation Dez Bryant every day?
"None," Jenkins said. "The way I see it, if I can D up those guys at practice, I can D up anybody."
The way the Cowboys (and probably opposing offensive coordinators) see it, Jenkins already can do so.
His place among the best in the game may not be far behind.