Commentary | Mike Jenkins, Lovie Smith looks like a perfect marriage

adell@bradenton.comMarch 23, 2014 Updated 23 hours ago

Jaguars Raiders Football

Oakland Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins (21) warms up before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — AP

TAMPA

The NFL free agency period always comes with sleepers, guys who are going to make their new coach and GM look like geniuses.

Mike Jenkins could be that for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and the former USF/Southeast High standout look to be a good fit.

The reputation that has followed Jenkins the past couple of years has not been all that kind.

Some of it he brought on himself, but a lot of it has been filled with erroneous analysis based on inconclusive information and injuries.

Jenkins has been criticized of late for not being physical.

What he did last year at Oakland refutes that argument.

Jenkins finished tied for third among NFL cornerbacks with 68 tackles. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder tied for seventh with seven missed tackles and was fourth with five quarterback hurries.

Those are not the numbers of a guy who shies away from contact.

The proof lies with Smith. He wants guys on defense who love to get physical.

Where Jenkins disappointed last year was in coverage. There is no denying he gave up way too many completions.

You could make excuses. The Raiders' front four put more pressure on its defensive backs than opposing quarterbacks, and the scheme was questionable.

Jenkins should thrive under Smith and his Tampa 2 defense, which stresses more zone coverage but doesn't exclude man to man.

It would not be a surprise if Jenkins beat out second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks and give Bucs new acquisition Alterraun Verner a run for his money.

Alterraun had 56 tackles with the Tennessee Titans last season, but was extremely impressive in coverage, limiting quarterbacks to a 55.8 rating in his coverage area, which ranked fourth among cornerbacks.

Banks was among the bottom 11 in Pro Football Focus cornerback efficiency ratings, and teammate Leonard Johnson was rated the third-worst cornerback in the league.

Darrelle Revis was ranked number one among cornerbacks in overall efficiency, and he is gone. At 12, Verner is the highest ranking current Tampa Bay Buc corner, and Jenkins is second.

Give the Bucs credit. They shored up their cornerback position on the cheap with Alterraun getting a guarantee of only $14 million on a four-year deal.

Jenkins gets $1.5 million with a chance to earn another $500,000 in incentives. He gives the Bucs a first round draft that hasn't turned 30 and could be extremely effective if he can stay healthy.

Both these guys fit well into Smith's defensive scheme that emphasizes physical play and creating turnovers.

"I would definitely say that we're not trying to build anything slowly," Smith said. "It's not about rebuilding or anything like that. We want to put a better football team on the field next year. We had the flexibility to do that, then we had players that seemed like a perfect fit for what we wanted to do."

Smith usually runs Cover 2 on third and long (about six yards or more), and anything less is often man. The difference for Jenkins is that his coverage time should be less if Smith's defensive line meets his expectations. He could wind up covering the slot, which might be better suited for Jenkins at this stage of his career.

Returning to play at Raymond James Stadium where Jenkins earned first team All-American honors and playing a Cover 2 type defense that then head coach Jim Leavitt used, is a bonus.

With a one-year deal, this is likely Jenkins' last chance to get that long-term, big-money deal.

It's a win for the Bucs. At a bargain price, they get a guy who is hungry to prove himself and make the money that eluded him at Dallas because of injuries and a falling out with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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