In 2012, former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan stated that he was looking at "nothing but cornerbacks" as the team prepared for that season. Ryan's statement proved prophetic as Dallas went out and signed coveted cornerback Brandon Carr away from the Kansas City Chiefs and traded up to select LSU's Morris Claiborne in the first round of the draft. Now two years, and two defensive coordinators, later, the team finds itself with a different philosophy for pass coverage and experiencing some growing pains in making the transition to its new scheme. Cornerback is still a position where the Cowboys need to improve themselves to become a competitive force in the NFC.
For Rod Marinelli's defense, the top three corners appear to be set. The twin coup of the 2012 off season, Carr and Claiborne, will return and be paired with veteran Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick, whom Dallas believes to be among the best slot corners in the game, stepped up his performance in 2013 and proved himself to be the best of the Dallas cornerbacks. His performance was good enough to take over the duties held previously by Mo Claiborne as the starter along side Carr, with Scandrick moving into the slot and Claiborne taking his place when the Cowboys played three corners. Still, competition is a key element of the Jason Garrett philosophy, so behind the top dogs, there will be plenty of guys battling for a job in Dallas. As in my look at the safety competition, the players in italics are the ones who saw significant action during 2013.
|CB||B.W. Webb||2nd Year||Draft 2013/4th Round|
|CB||Brandon Carr||7th Year||2012 Free Agent|
|CB||Morris Claiborne||3rd Year||Draft 2012/1st Round|
|CB||Orlando Scandrick||6th Year||Draft 2008/5th Round|
|CB||Sterling Moore||4th Year||From NE Practice Squad|
|CB||Terrance Mitchell||Rookie||Draft 2014/7th Round|
For Dallas, the biggest priorities will have to be getting Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to perform at the level that they once played at. It was Carr's efforts in Kansas City and Claiborne's as a college athlete that prompted the team to invest heavily in each man. As of yet, Jerry Jones has not received his money's worth on either investment, although at times each man has shown signs of what he is capable of as a Cowboy. It will be up to Coach Marinelli and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson to return these two critical pieces to their former levels of production.
Beyond the top three players, Dallas returns a little bit more experience at cornerback than they do at safety. Only the two rookies have not seen NFL action. Sterling Moore, who has also gained some experience at the safety position, has an AFC Championship ring with the New England Patriots. His counterpart, B.W. Webb, saw action in 15 of 16 games for the Cowboys last season.
Although he has experience with the Pats, and parts of two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Sterling Moore should not consider himself as a solid part of the roster. Last season he was the surprise cut coming out of training camp. Despite the fact that he is capable of covering both corner and safety in the Dallas secondary the team chose to go in another direction. As the season wore on and the team suffered from both injury and poor performance in the secondary, the Cowboys (along with the rest of the league) were reluctant to reach out to Moore. Only as the season wound to a close did the Dallas front office bring him back to serve as the fourth corner in passing situations. Unless he makes significant strides to impress the coaching staff this time around, Sterling Moore could again find himself watching the season from his couch.
The player who will be in direct competition with Moore to maintain his slot on the roster is second year man B.W. Webb. The young player out of William & Mary was the fourth corner prior to Dallas bringing back Moore. Coming from a small school, Webb faced challenges as he tried to adjust to the games top level while playing one of its hardest positions to transition to. Webb is noted for the ability to make critical interceptions, which if he can improve in coverage skills, should serve him well as he battles for a job in Rod Marinelli's defense.
Undrafted free agent Jocquel Skinner is a player in the "big corner" mold. He checks in at 6'2". Although information on Skinner is hard to find due to his playing at tiny NAIA school Bethel State, his athletic abilities and measurables are impressive. Among his numbers are a 4.49 in the 40, 7.01 3-cone drill and he posted 37 inches in the vertical jump, as well a 10'02" in the broad jump. He is a raw talent, and if he lands a spot in Dallas for 2014 it will likely be on the practice squad as he attempts to transition to playing against the best football has to offer.
His fellow rookie, seventh-round pick Terrance Mitchell, has already faced high level competition as a member of the University of Oregon's football team. Although he is more in the mold of a traditional corner, Mitchell will also be battling to make a future for himself. Also athletic, but not quite as much so as Skinner, he has demonstrated the ability to compete against high level competition and play both his man and the ball. To make a name for himself, Terrance Mitchell is going to have to quit living for the big play and develop into a consistent player if he wants a career in football.
While the top three corners in Dallas appear to be safe, the guys down the roster all have a shot at making the club. Moore and Webb probably have the inside track, but nothing is certain. Once the team opens camp in Oxnard anything can happen. The biggest certainty for the corners, and safeties as well, is that they have a lot of room for improvement.