The Dallas Cowboys defense was a total mess in 2013 and turned in one of the worst statistical years ever. Most of the attention has been focused on a defensive line that was decimated by injury, quickly followed by some key injuries in the linebacker corps. But what about the secondary? Besides Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick, everybody's play could use some improvement. No name is a bigger "need to improve" than Morris Claiborne.
The Cowboys moved all the way up to #6 in the draft to grab Claiborne a couple of years ago. He was expected to become a shutdown corner and pair up with Brandon Carr to become one of the best cornerback duos in the league. It hasn't happened that way, to say the least. Last year, he lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick.
There are two theories, not mutually exclusive, as to what ails Claiborne. One is what literally ails Claiborne, like wrist, hamstring and shoulder ailments. He's never been entirely healthy in Dallas. Many want to see him play a year fully healthy before rendering judgement. But what if he can't stay healthy? Is there a point where you just have to cut ties or attempt a trade?
The second theory is that he's out of place in the Cowboys defensive scheme. When drafted, the Cowboys were still in Rob Ryan's pressure, man-up defensive scheme. That was thought to be part of the attraction to Claiborne, those skills were on display at LSU. But in Mote Kiffin's more zone-oriented Tampa-2, Claiborne became lost. The Cowboys did make an effort as the season wore on to play more man, and may continue to do so this year, but will Claiborne ever be a fit?
Here are two opinions that think Claiborne will have a bounce back year.
Feel free to call me any name in the book you want about believing in what this team can get from Claiborne, I will take it like a big boy. You have heard me say this a bunch: the scout in me has seen this player make plenty of plays during his days while in college at LSU. The Cowboys were not the only team in the NFL that had him as the best corner on their draft board. Claiborne in my view has never been able to show you the type of player that he is because he has never been healthy enough to do so. A wrist, knee, hamstring and shoulder have all been factors in his inability to play at the type of level that many have seen from him before. It will not be easy for Claiborne to take that starting cornerback spot away from Orlando Scandrick, but if he in fact can put these injuries behind him, than you can see the type of player on a weekly basis that played in a shutdown role in a game in Philadelphia. Morris Claiborne knows he is at a crossroads in his career. I believe he is going to turn his career around.
7) Morris Claiborne, cornerback, Dallas Cowboys
When Claiborne was coming out of college, I thought he was going to be fantastic. So did the Cowboys, who traded up to take him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He's been adequate, at best, and most certainly not an elite corner. In his first two NFL seasons, Claiborne's play has been spotty and he's battled a bevy of injuries. Now, to be fair, I should note that Dallas' defense was a complete mess last season, as I touched on earlier this week. I fault former coordinator Monte Kiffin. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones understandably pointed a finger at the front seven on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports." But now, there's a new coordinator and new players up front. This defense, which ranked 30th against the pass, can significantly improve in 2014, but Claiborne has to take that next step. I expect it to happen.
Personally, I'm on board with the thought that Claiborne will play much better this year, but I'm always an optimist, so that's no surprise. If he tanks, all bets are off. If he does tank and fails to win his spot back from Scandrick, would you consider releasing or trading him in 2015?