Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Thursday, August 30, 2012
Orlando Scandrick must step up

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys cannot count on Mike Jenkins.

The cornerback will practice Saturday, having finally been declared healthy after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but it's a pipe dream to believe Jenkins needs only a few days to prepare to face the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Orlando Scandrick
Orlando Scandrick is out to prove he's worth the big contract he signed prior to last season.

Even after Jenkins has chipped off eight months of rust, he's a wild card. The Cowboys have to consider any contributions from Jenkins a bonus, as long as the newcomers who pushed him out of the starting lineup stay healthy.

They need Orlando Scandrick, the forgotten man in the Cowboys' cornerback corps just a year after signing a five-year, $27 million contract extension, to earn his money.

Man, money is a sensitive issue for the Cowboys' cornerbacks from the draft class of 2008.

The Cowboys gave Brandon Carr a bunch of it, signing the former Kansas City Chief to a five-year, $50.1 million deal in free agency. That's the kind of contract Jenkins hoped to get entering the final season of his rookie deal. Instead, the former first-round pick lost his starting job when the Cowboys made another major investment in a corner, packaging their first two picks to take LSU's Morris Claiborne sixth overall.

That left Jenkins disgruntled, refusing to report to Valley Ranch except when required during the offseason.

When he broke his media silence at the beginning of training camp, Jenkins offered disingenuous denials regarding reports he pushed for a trade. Trust me, agent Drew Rosenhaus was trying to get Jenkins moved to a team willing to play him and pay him as a Pro Bowl-caliber starter.

And Scandrick gets annoyed when it's suggested that he needs to play up to the standards of a deal that pays him starter money to be a part-time player.

Jenkins He's never played inside in his career. To think that he's just going to come inside and play inside, I'm more than willing to let the best player play.

-- Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick
on Mike Jenkins

"If you don't think that they got their money's worth. I mean, hey," said Scandrick, a bargain for a few years as a fifth-round pick who played a significant role. "It would have been hard to imagine if I would have walked out the door in March who would have been playing right now. Who would have been playing right now?"

It wouldn't be Jenkins. It couldn't be, right?

Forget for a moment about whether Jenkins will be properly motivated or pout all season long. Ignore the fact that his career has been a model of inconsistency, more bad than good despite a Pro Bowl campaign in 2009 and being the Cowboys' best cornerback last season (faint praise) despite dealing with hamstring and shoulder injuries.

What role will Jenkins have once he has worked his way into football shape? Is it realistic to think that a guy who has never played in the slot in his life can just practice there a few times and cover receivers like the New York Giants' Victor Cruz in unfamiliar territory?

"All we want to do with Mike Jenkins is get him back on the practice field, see how he's moving around," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We're not overly focused on any particular role that he has. He hasn't practiced in a long, long time, so we just want to get him playing football again."

Garrett danced around the subject. Scandrick addressed it directly, as least as it relates to him.

With all due respect, Scandrick can't see Jenkins taking his job. In fact, Scandrick completely dismisses the thought, saying it hasn't even crossed his mind.

"He's never played inside in his career," Scandrick said. "To think that he's just going to come inside and play inside, I'm more than willing to let the best player play."

That's the kind of swagger a corner needs, especially one who operates with little help in wide-open space as is required by slot guys.

The issue: Scandrick admits that swagger wavered last season.

It's not like Scandrick stunk it up all season. He had some good games, most notably holding AFC receiving leader Wes Welker to 45 yards the week Scandrick returned from a high ankle sprain.

However, the Cowboys got a poor return on their investment in the first year of Scandrick's eight-figure deal.

According to Stats Inc., opponents completed 68.5 percent of their passes and averaged 9.3 yards per attempt when targeting Scandrick. Among corners targeted at least 50 times, those figures ranked third and 13th highest in the league.

The lasting image of Scandrick from last season: Cruz soaring over him for a critical 44-yard gain on third down after the Cowboys cut the Giants' lead to a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the win-or-the-end regular-season finale.

"Football is hard. The position is hard," Scandrick said. "Sometimes the chips don't fall your way. One or two bad plays and you second-guess yourself. It's all about playing with confidence."

Scandrick's chin definitely isn't dragging these days. Garrett gushes about Scandrick's "relentless spirit" and competitiveness, calling those traits contagious.

Scandrick believes he's a better player than he was last season. He's eager to prove it. He knows he's not going to be a starter with Carr and Claiborne in the fold, so Scandrick's goal is to be the best slot corner in the NFL.

If that happens, that contract extension won't seem silly at all.

"If I play well, you won't even be thinking about it," Scandrick said. "We won't even be talking about it."

And we probably wouldn't be talking much about Jenkins, either.