TAMPA — After an injury-hampered training camp and a slow start to his Bucs tenure, cornerback Mike Jenkins can't hide his excitement for what's coming Sunday: a chance to run onto the Raymond James Stadium field again.
"I think it's going to be real electric for me to just get out there and be home again," Jenkins said.
At Raymond James Stadium for the season opener against the Panthers, and on the field in general.
Jenkins starred at USF from 2004-07. He fondly remembers returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Cincinnati and toppling a Top-5 West Virginia team.
His more recent career has been rocky. He was sidelined all of August with a hamstring injury.
"It's my first time experiencing something like this," Jenkins, 29, said after practice Friday. "It was very frustrating, not being out there and being able to help my team, help the defense get better, help the coaches see every piece they wanted to see at once."
The coaching staff has had limited opportunities to see the entire starting secondary work together. Injuries also sidelined cornerback Alterraun Verner and safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson at points during offseason practices, so the four hadn't worked as a unit much before this week.
"I don't think we're where we want to be right now as far as playing, but that's going to come," said Jenkins, the No. 25 overall pick by Dallas in the 2008 draft. "The more reps we get together, the more comfortable we get together. It's going to jell."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Jenkins had a good offseason and sat in on meetings so he's mentally ready for Sunday. A Bradenton native, Jenkins is used to the heat, and he ran to condition himself when he wasn't able to participate in drills.
But even after several days of practice, the Bucs aren't sure how long he'll be able to contribute against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and a good receiving corps, led by rookie and former Florida State standout Kelvin Benjamin. The Bucs list Jenkins as probable, though he fully participated in practice all week.
"We're happy to have him back," Frazier said. "The physical part, we're still trying to get some of those questions answered here in practice. "
The same questions lingered this time last year about a different Pro Bowl player: Darrelle Revis.
Revis missed the preseason while he recovered from a torn ACL but finished with a team-high 11 passes defensed and earned his fifth Pro Bowl appearance.
But Jenkins, a 2009 Pro Bowl pick with the Cowboys, has more to prove than Revis. He is on his third team in three years. He started only two games for the Cowboys in 2012 and played only one snap when Dallas beat Carolina that October.
The Bucs hope Jenkins' 75 tackles and two interceptions last year with Oakland is a sign of progress. They signed him in March as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
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The Bucs showed even more confidence in him this week. Though coaches saw little of him during camp, they listed him as the starter ahead of Johnthan Banks, the Bucs' 2013 second-round draft pick who started every game as a rookie.
"It means a lot," Jenkins said. "It shows a lot from the coaches … that they still have trust in me."
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.