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|The Cowboys' secondary struggled last season, and CB Mike Jenkins' performance declined from 2009.|
The Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks struggled in 2010. Neither of the starters, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, played well. Given his age, Newman's drop wasn't unforeseen. But Jenkins, after a fantastic 2009 season, had looked as though he was on the cusp of joining the ranks of elite cornerbacks. That didn't happen.
For all the trouble Dallas had at this position last season, surprisingly little has been done to improve things. The Cowboys used only one draft pick, a fifth-rounder, on the position -- Josh Thomas from Buffalo. And asking Thomas to contribute in a prominent role immediately seems far-fetched. Changes could still be on the way. Newman is scheduled to make a lot of money in 2011, and his play didn't come close to warranting such compensation. He could be released or he could be given another year to get back to his previous level of play. Dallas could also get involved in the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. If the Cowboys did land a high-end free agent corner like Asomugha, Newman will be playing elsewhere next year. But still, Jenkins seems assured of returning as a starter, which is a strong vote of confidence.
I expect Jenkins to play closer to his 2009 form than how he played in 2010. He is still a very young man -- 26 years old -- and he is not declining physically. His movement skills were not as strong last season. Maybe there were injuries that not everyone was aware of. Jenkins was too aggressive, gave up too many big plays and ended up taking too many pass interference calls when he guessed wrong. Jenkins needs to pay much more attention to every nuance of the position. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan might be able to help. The other thing that could help Dallas' cornerback play is more help from the safeties. I will be shocked if the Cowboys don't land a starting free safety like Eric Weddle or Michael Huff in free agency. Free safety was an even bigger liability last season than cornerback.
Dallas was an excellent pass-rushing defense and should be again, led by DeMarcus Ware and using Ryan's aggressive schemes. A great pass-rush is a cover man's best friend. When right, Jenkins has everything you look for physically in a cover corner. He has size, speed, agility and ball skills. If he can regain his Pro Bowl 2009 form, and the Cowboys add another piece to the secondary, Dallas might have one of the truly elite defenses in the league.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL