For Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, adjusting to then-Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 defense in 2013 was often awkward. It was also sometimes downright painful to watch. But now, with Rod Marinelli calling the shots on D, the two most popular and talented defensive backs on the roster could have a chance to turn things around.
That's because Marinelli has made it clear that, despite the fact he and Kiffin have similar backgrounds, he'll likely implement more man coverage in 2014.
"These guys are really good man corners," Marinelli said this week, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer. "They can go up and get you and press you. They really add something to the defensive package."
Archer reports that last year, Carr and Claiborne asked to play more man coverage but weren't able to get their wish. Frankly, each struggled enough in both man and zone that it might not have made a difference, but it's also clear that man coverage is something they'd prefer. Being comfortable is important when we're talking about players with $50 million contracts (Carr) or players the team sacrificed its first two draft picks for in 2012 (Claiborne).
|Could it hurt? Most yards allowed in NFL history|
|1. New Orleans Saints||2012||7042|
|2. Baltimore Ravens||1981||6793|
|3. Dallas Cowboys||2013||6645|
|4. Green Bay Packers||2011||6585|
|5. New England Patriots||2011||6577|
|Pro Football Reference|
"We've got three good corners that can go up and play with anybody," Claiborne said, per Archer. "When you have those types of weapons on your team, you have to use them. I don't know how much man or what we'll actually be in, but I know we'll be in a good majority of it."
When he was struggling early last season, Claiborne spoke about the problems he was having with the zone, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon:
I feel like it's high, but it's not where it needs to be to be able to play corner. We're not the type of team that we were last year. We're not assigned [receivers] and you go wherever he goes, you follow him wherever he goes, and that's your man. We're not in that. We don't do that anymore.
Now we're basically a zone team. You have to play within that zone. Everything is new to everybody. When guys come in and hit those big dig routes in between the zones, then of course the corner's there, so they're going to say, "Oh, yeah, that's the corner."
It's still a transition. When we were in press, just faced up man to man, they only hit one ball on me. But overall, I think all my big plays come within the zone.
That might be less of a concern in 2014, which could give Claiborne a chance to avoid becoming a bust. It could also give this talented cornerback corps a chance to finally live up to the hype, because Carr, Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick have the potential to make up one hell of a unit.
"We believe that we can be the best in the league," Claiborne said of the trio, per Jon Machota of Fox Sports Southwest. "We got some unique talent on our team, especially in our secondary. With us three in general, from the way we work and the way we go at it, we're pushing each other each and every day."
Good coaches cater, at least partially, to their personnel. It's clear based on what we know about Carr and Claiborne that they're better off in press-man situations, so kudos to Marinelli for not forcing his ideal system down the throats of some very important young players.
That flexibility could pay off.