The Dallas Cowboys enter their bye week with a lot of uncertainty and a 2-2 record. With a quarter of the season gone, I wanted to take a closer look at one of the pleasant surprises on the Cowboys. While the sample size is small, the past four games have given us a clearer picture of what some of the players on the Dallas Cowboys are capable of.
After a poor outing against the Chicago Bears, I wanted to stay positive and highlight rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne. He has played better than expected. Clearly the Cowboys have a lot of work to do on the offensive side of things, but it's not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of football left to be played, and the Cowboys can still turn their season around.
The Claiborne Identity
Morris Claiborne became a shocking surprise on draft night when the Dallas Cowboys traded up to take the rookie cornerback from LSU. Claiborne missed a lot of time during the offseason while he was recovering from surgery on his wrist; it was assumed that he would need some time to catch up and adjust to the NFL.
Through four games Claiborne has looked like the talented cornerback that the Dallas Cowboys graded as the second-best player in the 2012 NFL Draft. He has a lot of help on the other side in his counterpart Brandon Carr, but Claiborne has managed to elevate his game and hasn't made a lot of rookie mistakes.
The only moment that Claiborne truly looked like a rookie cornerback was last Monday night when Devin Hester blew by him with a double move for a 34-yard touchdown. Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to play in all of sports. You have to have a short memory and you cannot get too low after surrendering a big play. Claiborne may be a rookie, but he has the right attitude when it comes to playing the position on the professional level.
"Playing corner, you have to have a short memory. Guys are going to catch balls and catch touchdowns," Claiborne said. "It all depends on what you do after that play. You can’t just shut it down."
Claiborne has been ahead of the learning curve through four games. The best part - Claiborne is only going to improve and get better with more experience. Each and every snap Claiborne plays will make the talented cornerback even better.
What's really been impressive about Claiborne is his mental approach towards the game of football. He is a very young player, but it sounds like he has been in the league for years. Brandon Carr is excited to have a talent like Claiborne on the other side of him and raved about his mindset.
"He’s a warrior," Carr said. "His mindset is where it needs to be in this game, especially on the island. You’re going to give up some plays. Unfortunately, we gave up plays at the wrong time. It’s a learning experience. He’s going to bounce back from it. Today, he was upbeat and positive. That’s good to see. A lot of guys are upbeat and positive, ready to shake the loss off and get ready for the next one."
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't get his wish when the Cowboys drafted offensive tackle Tyron Smith over defensive end J.J. Watt, but Claiborne can become his version of Darrelle Revis. Obviously he has a lot of work to do before we can even put him in the same class as Revis, but it's becoming clear that he does have the physical talent to become a lockdown cornerback.
While at LSU, Claiborne was a ballhawk type of cornerback that generated 11 interceptions in just two seasons as a starting cornerback. Draft analysts raved about his ability to be a playmaker in the NFL, but I felt that people weren't giving Claiborne enough credit for his coverage skills. When you can play press coverage the way Claiborne does, you have a rare ability that not many cornerbacks possess.
We haven't seen Claiborne generate a turnover for the Cowboys yet (he was real close on Monday night), but it's only a matter of time before he starts making plays on the football. There haven't been enough turnovers for the entire defense, but have our cornerbacks really been tested?
Pro Football Focus says that teams have targeted Claiborne just 14 times this season, which is a considerably low amount. Fellow rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins has been targeted a league-high 36 times this season. Opposing quarterback aren't testing our rookie cornerback as much as we thought they would. Whether that's due to our scheme or the talent of Claiborne, all that matters is that he is ready to play at a high level.
It was so difficult to watch our secondary the past few seasons because they just couldn't cover anybody when it mattered, and now we no longer have that problem. I know that we expected our secondary to be a strength, but it's been such a great feeling watching how much this secondary has improved this season. Morris Claiborne has been a pleasant surprise, but he is only going to get better and better.