The Dallas Cowboys secondary is becoming more thin as suspensions are claiming many of the team’s key defensive backs.
Safety Jakar Hamilton is the latest Cowboy to receive a four-game suspension, joining Orlando Scandrick who was struck down on Aug. 12. Although Brandon Carr has returned from injury, that still leaves a lot of youth patrolling the secondary.
That means that 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne must step up for the defense this season.
Since being drafted, the former LSU Tiger has had a mediocre career filled with injuries and disappointment. His struggles last season resulted in losing his starting spot to Scandrick. Claiborne posted just one interception and five passes defended, two of the lowest numbers amongst all NFL DB’s.
He has been a low-point on a sorry defense, constantly getting beat in former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2. While playing zone is not Claiborne’s game, he failed to show any adjustment to the system and struggled to be effective for the third-worst pass defense last season.
However, there is a new possibility of success this season with Rod Marinelli taking over as defensive coordinator. He was the DC for Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears when they were amongst the NFL’s finest defenses.
The positive for Claiborne and even Carr is that Marinelli wants to play more man-to-man coverage, an area that both corners are exceptionally good at.
That played a big part in the Cowboys trading up to get Claiborne in 2012. He is a large corner and uses his frame to disrupt the passing game at the line of scrimmage. It will force the defense to play in more single-high looks (Cover 1 in man coverage) but is something that could be successful when Barry Church is on the field.
The biggest test for the Cowboys secondary will be in Week 4 against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the final game of both Scandrick’s and Hamilton’s suspensions. Although the opening contest against the San Francisco 49ers will also be a challenge, the team’s first three games could help Claiborne gain confidence and his spot back before Scandrick’s return.
The absence of a proven pass-rusher will put more pressure on the club’s secondary. That makes it more imperative that Claiborne step up and prove his first-round status.
Considering the puny depth that Marinelli has to work with, this season’s results could depend on Claiborne’s effectiveness.