TAMPA — Mike Jenkins thinks about making plays at Raymond James Stadium again, the way he used to as a ball-hawking cornerback for the University of South Florida. He is eager to perform for a Bucs team he grew up rooting for and do it in front of people who have mattered the most.
Jenkins let all those emotions wash over him like the Florida sunshine Thursday following a minicamp practice.
"I've been all around, but it feels great to come back and play in the same stadium I played in college," Jenkins said. "To have a great atmosphere with friends and family and fans … this is where I made it. It's a blessing."
Whether he continues to feel the love depends on how well Jenkins plays.
After entering the NFL draft as a first-round pick (25th overall, five picks after the Bucs took Aqib Talib) by the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, Jenkins quickly made his mark. In his second year, he intercepted five passes in 15 games and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.
"I kind of set the bar real high," Jenkins said. "I probably set it too high for myself."
After another decent season, with 55 tackles, an interception and 19 passes defensed, an array of nagging injuries sabotaged his production the next two years before he joined the Raiders in 2013 as an unrestricted free agent.
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Jenkins found his game with the silver and black in Oakland, where he recorded a career-best 65 tackles and two interceptions last season.
"A lot of people thought I couldn't play anymore and it felt good for me to go back out there and prove a lot of people wrong," said Jenkins, 29, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Bucs. "I made a lot of plays, I made a lot of tackles, a lot of people thought I couldn't tackle. I just wanted to keep everybody focused and we're going to have a repeat (this year)."
That would be fine for the Bucs, who found themselves in the unenviable position of having to release cornerback Darrelle Revis and use his $16 million per year contact to sign three defensive players, including Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Jenkins, who played at Bradenton Southeast High School, will have to compete for a starting job with second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks.
"He's a great guy," Jenkins said of Banks. "He's long, athletic and he's putting it all on tape. That's all I can really tell about him. He's definitely pushing everybody to be a better secondary. We're just going to keep competing and keep helping each other through the journey."
Bucs coach Lovie Smith believes Jenkins has all the qualities to become an effective Cover 2 corner. Start with his ball skills. He has 10 career interceptions and 49 pass breakups. He also is a physical tackler.
"I've known about Mike," Smith said. "I remember when he worked out at USF. Good player. Local guy. Even last year as I was out, I watched him a bit. He was a guy with a year left and he had an opportunity to go wherever he wanted to. So we recruited him hard to come here. But he has a good record. I think he had six or seven interceptions for one year. He has good hands, he'll tackle.
"But for him, I told it was time for him to settle down. And what better place to settle down than back at home?"