Junior cornerback Mike Jenkins struggled through his first season. After three games and ankle injuries, Jenkins had to work his way into the lineup.
But after two interceptions in the Spring Game, including one for a touchdown, Jenkins’ confidence is sky high.
The success that came out of the Spring Game will feed the young secondary Jenkins is looking to lead.
“I’m feeling pretty good, I’m confident in myself, and I’m confident in our defense,” Jenkins said. “So I’m feeling good about the upcoming season.”
It took Jenkins just three plays to prove he’s healthy and ready to show what he can do. On the first possession for the Green Team, Jenkins picked off redshirt freshman Matt Grothe on a sideline route and raced 29 yards for a touchdown.
Jenkins admitted he saw it coming.
“I read my keys, sat on the route and gambled a little bit,” Jenkins said. “I saw him throw the ball and I was like, ‘Oh no, I know he’s not throwing the ball.’ I just broke on it and was trying to score points on the board for us.”
Jenkins later bragged to Grothe after the game.
“Mike (Jenkins) even told me after the play that he knew it was coming,” Grothe said.
The work during spring drills assisted Jenkins in his progression in the secondary, and running the base defense in the spring game didn’t hurt. Jenkins’ second interception came at the end of the first half and wrapped up a solid night.
Jenkins was happy with his performance and felt the game could be a springboard into the upcoming season.
“It felt pretty good to get a pick, because I was just prepping myself for the season,” Jenkins said. “That just helped my confidence and how I’m playing on the field.”
USF comes into the 2006 season with a young group of defensive backs. Sophomore Carlton Williams will start at safety, and freshman Jerome Murphy had an impressive spring, including two interceptions in the Spring Game.
With the loss of safety Johnnie Jones to graduation, Jenkins and fellow starter junior Trae Williams will be looked to for leadership. Jenkins knows the secondary has a lot of work to do but feels it is just as good as last year’s group.
“For the secondary, Johnny was a big loss for us,” Jenkins said. “Trae has experience, and Murphy is a youngster, but he has been playing like a veteran. I feel like we are young, but I don’t feel like we lost a step.”
It was hard for defensive coordinator Wally Burnham to get an accurate evaluation of the secondary, as the defense was allowed to play just its base 4-3 defense. Even without the zone blitz USF is infamous for, Burnham was satisfied with what he saw.
“This game wasn’t a good evaluation of our defense because our hands were kind of tied,” Burnham said. “We are a zone-blitz type of team that runs people down; that’s what we did last year. But we did a good job.”
Burnham didn’t think Jenkins had an exceptional spring but feels he’s ready to make the next step in the upcoming season. He felt Jenkins’ performance in the spring game was typical for a returning starter.
If there is one area of Jenkins’ game he feels he needs to work on over the summer, it will be to play through the whistle. Since USF’s defense can be the type that swarms, Jenkins said he must keep his head in the game through the entire play.
“I need to work on finishing my plays, because sometimes I get lazy in my game,” Jenkins said. “So I’m going to work on finishing the play.”