The NFL is officially in its dead season, as such, there is just so much anticipation for the start of the NFL season. But then people realize there's still 90 days until the first regular season game. One thing people can talk about however is the start of offseason training activities leading into training camp and then onto preseason. At this point in time, teams are just starting to get their offseason work going.
We've heard about many headlines at OTAs, such as Ezekiel Elliott taking first-team reps, Tony Romo looking great, and the unfortunate injury to Maliek Collins. And while there seems to be a ton of buzz about this Cowboys team, as there should be with so many quality pieces in the right spots, many are forgetting about a player that has the potential to breakout and fully develop into what the Cowboys thought he would become when they drafted him a few years ago.
It's been four years since the Cowboys traded up and selected Morris Claiborne in the 2012 NFL Draft. In that offseason, the Cowboys drafted Claiborne and shelled out $50 million in free agency to sign Brandon Carr in an attempt to fix the secondary. And since that offseason period, the Cowboys have failed to get consistent production from that duo. Outside of his first year with the Cowboys, which wasn't that great to begin with, Carr's tenure in Dallas has been extremely rocky. At the same time, Claiborne's time in Dallas has been filled with inconsistency and injuries.
When his rookie contract ended after the 2015 season, the Cowboys decided to bring back Claiborne on a one-year deal in hopes of giving him one more opportunity to prove himself and live up to his draft status. For the Cowboys, a one-year deal worth $3 million is a good contract for a guy who has the ability to be better than he has, if he can just make it work.
Claiborne is no longer under the coaching and tutelage of Jerome Henderson. If you really think about Henderson's time in Dallas, the Cowboys have truly failed to fully develop a defensive back within the past 10 or so years outside of Byron Jones. J.J. Wilcox and B.W. Webb were both players Henderson was extremely fond of, but both have been complete busts in the NFL.
It seems that each year Claiborne looks great throughout the offseason and he talks about paying back the Cowboys and awarding them for taking a chance on him. Just last season, Claiborne started out the year playing quite well. Rod Marinelli had this to say about Claiborne three weeks after the start of the regular season:
"He seems really comfortable out there. You can see his athleticism right now," Marinelli said. "I just think week by week he's going to get better and better."
However, his overall 2015 season turned out to be less than average, much like the rest of the players on the Cowboys. Perhaps a large part of his struggles came because of the hamstring injury he suffered in the middle of the season last year. And despite his good play at the start of the year, Claiborne finished the season 112th out of 118 qualifiers in cornerback grades, according to PFF.
Playing in just 40 games in four seasons, it's questionable whether Claiborne can stay healthy, and if he can stay consistent when healthy. But with Byron Jones moving to free safety, Claiborne will finally get a partner in the defensive backfield that can provide range and insurance in case Claiborne does get beat.
For Claiborne to reach his full potential, he needs to build his confidence in addition to staying healthy. Confidence has continuously been a problem and when he does build some sort of confidence, an injury comes along that seems to get in his way and stunt his growth. The time is now for Claiborne to prove himself in this league. He's gotten bigger and stronger in comparison to last offseason, where he weighed just over 170 pounds at times.
From reports concerning the action in OTAs, Claiborne has been in position to make plays. It's hard believing that considering Claiborne went all of the 2015 season without an interception, but with another year under his belt in Rod Marinelli's defense, Claiborne seems to have gotten more comfortable than in years past.
Again, there are plenty of these articles that float around at this time of the year "Player X Will Make The Pro Bowl", "Player X Looks Good At OTA". These articles will most of the time be taken with a grain of salt and while Claiborne has performed well at OTAs, 2016 is finally the year where he can prove himself and his long-term role in Dallas. If Claiborne can stay away from the injury bug, there should absolutely no excuse why he shouldn't improve in 2016.