By Kevin McGuire
Name: Morris Claiborne – CB – #24
Weight: 188 lbs.
Hometown: Shreveport, LA
College: Louisiana State University
Experience: 1 year
The Dallas Cowboys may not have been tested against the pass much in 2012, but when opposing quarterbacks did take to the air, they did so with one of the best passing yards per attempt averages in the league. In a division with Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks such as Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III, and with the Philadelphia Eagles looking to pick up the pace on offense, having a strong secondary may be as important as ever for the Cowboys. That is why it will be essential for second-year defensive back Morris Claiborne to take great strides in 2013.
In his final two years at LSU, Claiborne recorded 11 interceptions and 274 return yards, which is the kind of big play defensive ability the Cowboys hoped to add to their defensive backfield. Claiborne will enter the 2013 season as one of the key players to watch in Dallas. After his stellar 2011 season with the Tigers, he was elected a unanimous All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award, which is earned by the top collegiate defensive back. The Cowboys desperately needed a playmaker and snatched him up with the sixth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Opposing offenses attacked Claiborne in his rookie season, with Claiborne being hit for an average of 8.28 yards per attempt. Offensive coordinators around the league often test rookie defensive backs until they can prove themselves. Claiborne finished the year with 55 tackles, eight passes defended, and one interception through 15 games. Disappointing numbers for the top pick of “America’s Team.”
Claiborne will enter the 2013 season as one of the key players to watch in Dallas––a team looking to rebound after coming close to an NFC East division title in 2012 before seeing it slip away with two losses to end the regular season.
Perhaps the turnovers will come for Claiborne, but one thing the Cowboys can be happy about after one year is the lack of touchdowns thrown against Claiborne in 2012. Just one touchdown came at his expense in the second half of the season in 2012, proving that he may give up some big yards on a routine basis, but he can lock down a receiver in the red zone.
The biggest difference this season will be having a new defensive coordinator calling the shots in Dallas. The Cowboys are welcoming Monte Kiffin back to the NFL after a departure from Tampa Bay to coach the college game at Tennessee and USC under his son, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin was widely regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL when at Tampa Bay during a run that culminated with a Super Bowl championship with Kiffin in charge of the defense. Kiffin’s defensive style, the Tampa 2, will allow Claiborne to find himself in a better situation on the field on a regular basis, allowing him to remain locked in on the football instead of the receiver,
Trust Kiffin to take each player’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses when setting up his defense in Dallas. Claiborne still has plenty of potential and should be capable of becoming a turnover machine if given the right opportunity. Fortunately for Claiborne and the Cowboys, turnovers are a product of Kiffin’s defensive scheme.
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Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.