IRVING, Texas – Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full years removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 campaign.
As we count down the days until training camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.
With six days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the top-10 draft pick returning for his sophomore season:
6) Will Claiborne Live Up To The Lofty Draft Pick?
By the standards you'd typically hold a rookie cornerback to, Morris Claiborne had a solid debut in 2012. The Cowboys' first round pick had high expectations placed on him after the team traded up to take the Shreveport, La., native No. 6 overall.
Cornerback is often considered one of the toughest positions to adapt to in pro football, and it shows in the stats. Claiborne showed flashes of excellence but also struggled, and he finished with a statline of 55 tackles, one interception, eight passes defended, one forced fumble and two fumbles recoveries – one of which he returned for a touchdown to help clinch a win against Philadelphia.
Look at the rookie stats of other highly-drafted corners, and it fits in perfectly. Claiborne's college teammate Patrick Peterson, a rookie in 2011, notched 64 tackles and two picks in his debut season. Stephon Gilmore, who was taken by Buffalo four picks after Claiborne, managed 61 tackles and one interception for the Bills last year. Joe Haden, a top-10 pick to Cleveland in 2010, nabbed an impressive six picks as a rookie, though he started just seven games to Claiborne's 15.
So there is precedent for modest production from even the most highly-regarded rookie corners. The next question will be if Claiborne can make the jump into bonafide lockdown cornerback. Claiborne has drawn comparisons to Peterson for most of his career as a cornerback, and that's likely to continue into 2013, as Peterson nabbed seven interceptions and recovered five fumbles while also earning a Pro Bowl nod as a kick returner.
The Cowboys' secondary compiling a measly seven interceptions in 2012, and on top of that, the tandem at safety is going to be new regardless of who wins the jobs. With that in mind, the pressure is on Claiborne (and veteran Brandon Carr, as well) to be a strong point in the Cowboys' new scheme. [embedded_ad]
Claiborne is ready for that role, if offseason activities are any indication. Much has been written, on this site and others, about the cornerback's added muscle for the more physical presence required of corners in Monte Kiffin's scheme. Even more has been said about Claiborne's onfield swagger, as he battled continuously with Dez Bryant during OTA's and minicamp.
Training camp and preseason will give Claiborne further opportunity to show his progression. Given his draft position and the spot where he plays, plenty of eyes will be on him.
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 6:
- Six is special to the Cowboys for one obvious reason – it is one of five Super Bowl numbers, and the first. Dallas won Super Bowl VI, 24-3, against Miami in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium.
- Fittingly enough, the Cowboys were six-point favorites in a game they wound up winning by much more.
- Claiborne is in good company as the Cowboys' No. 6 overall pick. The only other players Dallas has ever taken sixth overall are quarterback Craig Morton and linebacker Lee Roy Jordan.
- Punter Chris Jones is just the fourth player to wear No. 6 for the Cowboys. The other three were also specialists – Luis Zendejas, Tim Seder and Nick Folk. Seder has the rare distinction of being a kicker with a touchdown – worth six points, it's worth noting – to his name. As a rookie in 2000, Seder scored on a fake field goal against Cincinnati