IRVING, Texas – Morris Claiborne didn't hesitate when asked what he did this offseason to prepare for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's new defense.
Claiborne worked all offseason on getting stronger, going from 187 pounds last season to 193 pounds at the start of this year's Organized Team Activities. Now he's learning how to move around and keep his speed with the added weight.
"I feel like I've had a tremendous offseason with getting in the weight room and trying to get stronger and trying to help the team any way I can," Claiborne said.
Kiffin's defense will require Claiborne and the cornerbacks to be more physical. They'll be counted on to press receivers and tackle players coming out of the backfield. A few extra pounds should be able to help Claiborne do both.
"I feel a lot better, a lot more comfortable," Claiborne said. "I already told someone the other day, I feel a lot different when I pull up in the facility than I did a year ago."
It took Claiborne some time last year to get acquainted and comfortable in the NFL. Wrist surgery limited him in the offseason and prevented him from doing much before training camp. Once training camp hit, a sprained MCL limited him further.
Secondary coach Jerome Henderson said that was a lot of time lost for a rookie.
"Having him in the offseason is huge, because he didn't get an offseason last year to train and get stronger," he said. "We didn't really get him until training camp. So I'm excited for him to work on his body and get stronger and bigger. He had to do that to get to the level that we expect him to play at. So he's doing that work to get stronger and bigger and faster, and you come out here and see him move around really well. I'm excited for his upside."
Claiborne went through the typical growing pains of any rookie cornerback early in the season before finding his groove. Once he settled in a bit, he recorded the secondary's first interception of the year against the Panthers, and later returned a fumble for a touchdown.
The former first-round pick seemed to learn from his mistakes and perform better against teams the second time he saw them, particularly against division opponents. But both Claiborne and his secondary coach know he can perform better with another year of experience and a full offseason to devote to training.
"He's just got to be stronger," Henderson said. "There were times last year where he wasn't strong enough to execute a certain technique. He had to get stronger to do that. He's done the work to do that."
The Cowboys' defenders can be found watching film of the Seahawks' and Bears' defenses as they adjust to the new scheme. Those units feature an attacking secondary similar to what the Cowboys want to run with Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
Cornerback Brandon Carr said he's watched film of other teams, but the Cowboys are going to put their own touch on the Tampa 2 defense. Carr's accustomed to adapting to various coverages and techniques, having gone from the Chiefs to Rob Ryan's defense in Dallas and now to Kiffin's defense in the last three years.
"They're showing press with Seattle," Carr said. "With Chicago, they're playing the hard Cover 2 scheme, but at the same time, they're dictating the flow of the receivers. That's what we want to do. We want to dictate the flow and not let them attack us. We're going to attack them."
Carr sounds confident that the new scheme will benefit the Cowboys cornerbacks and cater to his and Claiborne's abilities.
"It allows us to go out there and press pretty much the whole game," he said. "Whether we play Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, I guess you'll have to find out after the play."