Dallas Cowboys: How Morris Claiborne's Arrival Vastly Improves the Defense

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystAugust 16, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Morris Claiborne from LSU stands on stage with family and friends including his son Morris Jr. and LSU head coach Les Miles (C) after Claiborne was selected #6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys during the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 26, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

After watching their secondary get shredded by New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in last year's regular-season finale, it was just as apparent to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as it was to all the Dallas fans throwing their $10 big foam hats at the television that the defensive backfield was the weak link of his defense.

Jones never exactly has been the sit-on-his-hands type, so he took a buzz saw to the secondary in the offseason, and among the additions that were made was the selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne in the first round of April's NFL draft.

The Cowboys and their fans will get their first glimpse of Claiborne in game action during this Saturday night's preseason matchup against the San Diego Chargers.

The 5'11", 188-pounder missed the Cowboys' preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders with a sprained knee after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, but not only is Claiborne raring to go, he recently told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he's prepared to play the full 60 minutes against the Chargers.

"As of now, I'm getting myself ready to play the whole game. I'm just looking forward to going out there and playing," Claiborne said. "I don't think you can hold anything back when you're so competitive. But it's a learning curve for me. Certain mistakes that I've made, the coaches, they expect me to make them (as a rookie). But I don't expect myself to make them. So I just try to learn from them and try to fix it."

As Claiborne himself said, there have been some bumps along the way, and try as he might, those glitches probably will extend into the regular season. Rookie cornerbacks, even really good ones, make mistakes. It happens.

With that said, however, there is ample reason for Cowboys fans to be eager to see Claiborne perform. The All-American has all the talent needed to serve as an anchor in the Dallas secondary for years to come.

Claiborne racked up 51 total tackles and intercepted six passes as a junior at LSU in 2011, and as Jonathan Bales of The New York Times stated prior to the NFL draft, Claiborne probably is the most polished coverage man in this year's draft class.

Claiborne is versatile; he’s sharp in both press and off coverage.  He seems most comfortable at the line, however, where he can use his long arms to disrupt receivers as they try to get into their routes.

Claiborne is at his best in zone coverage.  He has a really solid understanding of zone concepts and spacing.  He is constantly coming off his receiver in zone to make plays, all while maintaining his responsibility.

As I stated earlier, there undoubtedly will be growing pains in the National Football League, and Claiborne is going to need to work on his tackling technique and learn to keep his hands to himself downfield.

However, those are manageable and coachable issues, and the fact remains that Claiborne, when paired with free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr, could form one of the more formidable cornerback duos in the NFL sooner as opposed to later.

That means that, should Carr and Claiborne perform anywhere near as well as advertised, not only will the Dallas Cowboys have addressed their needs in the secondary but the weak spot of their defense in 2011 may well be their strength in 2012.

Say what you will about Jones, but the man gets things done.