When Mike Jenkins first sat down to talk with Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, the conversation was not about football.
"We didn't even talk sports. We talked about life, and I got a good vibe from him. That was the first time I met him, and I found he is a great person. He pretty much sold everything to me," Jenkins said.
Lovie had a lot to offer the 29-year-old Jenkins in that conversation last month, but the coach's presence was the clincher.
"I feel like I've been all over the globe. It feels good to finally get back home and finally have family and friends and be among people who will support me," Jenkins said.
It started at Southeast High, where Jenkins was a Blue-Chip All-American. He was a first-team All-American cornerback at USF, and the Dallas Cowboys selected him as the 25th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Jenkins sees this as a golden opportunity. He spent last season with the Oakland Raiders after five years with Dallas.
Smith apparently agrees. The Bucs initiated talks with Jenkins.
"There's something about coming back home and playing in front of the people that you grew up with, you know, that you owe an awful lot to. He's excited about that," Smith said.
Jenkins is still looking for that big deal that eluded him after his rookie contract expired. He had a career-high 68 tackles last year for an Oakland defense that had issues up front.
"Coach Lovie likes that physical style of play, and I believe that's why he came and got me," Jenkins said. "He didn't say how he would use me. He said everything is up for grabs, and that's OK. You just got to go in and play ball."
Jenkins has played a lot of football since draft day. There was a Pro Bowl selection in 2009, a publicized rift with owner Jerry Jones on how and where to rehab an injury and some criticism about his play.
Jenkins says he doesn't pay any attention to the naysayers and doesn't look to read about himself on the Internet or in newspapers.
The person he had to impress was Smith, who had a lot of time to watch a lot of players last season during his year out of football.
"I watched Mike a little bit this past year, and I remember when he came out of USF, his pro day, and I thought he had a lot of talent," Smith said. "I remember the All-Pro year that he had. What we're looking for from defensive backs, you know, ball skills. He has all the skills, you know, excellent speed, quickness. He'll tackle, with ball skills; we kind of start from there," Lovie said
Playing at Raymond James Stadium, where he earned his fame at USF, is special to Jenkins.
"The first chance I got to go into the facilities brought back everything to me, a lot of great memories," Jenkins said. "It was between Tampa Bay and Arizona, and once I went back to Tampa I felt the energy. It was a no-brainer to be home because that's where it started. I have natural adrenalin, but the fan base back home feels good."
Jenkins hasn't been promised anything, but he possesses a lot of promise and figures to get equal playing time with free-agent signee Alterraun Verner and second-year returnee Johnthan Banks. Tampa Bay plans to use its nickel package (three cornerbacks) a lot, and Bucs GM Jason Licht said he considers all three starters.
"Nothing is ever guaranteed. All I have to do is work and do everything that I need to do, but I played a full season last year and have been only hurt once in my years in the league. I feel that I am blessed," Jenkins said.
Smith, Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer and cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd said they believe they have a special player in Jenkins and are dedicated to helping him reach his full potential.
Being home makes it all easier.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.