IRVING, Texas – Here's a look at the cornerbacks in 2013:
It seemed odd when the front office made the determination to go the direction that they did from the 3-4 defensive scheme to the 4-3, with the style of cornerbacks that they had on the roster at the time. For two seasons, we had seen these corners play a great deal of man coverage and struggle when they played zone. One of the main reasons that you made the financial commitment to Brandon Carr and used the resources on Morris Claiborne was their ability to play press man. I would even put Orlando Scandrick in this category as well but with his quickness and ability to react, he is better suited to play in either scheme.
When Monte Kiffin was hired, I broke down how the scheme would not only effect the defensive line and linebackers but the adjustment that these corners would have to make. When you went back and took a look at Kiffin's history, it required a different style of corner to play in this scheme. There were more opportunities to play in zone but it also required a cornerback that was physical on the edge, which Carr and Claiborne struggled with even under Rob Ryan. Scandrick again was able to adapt better because he had the physical traits to do this despite his lack of size. He was more willing to play with that aggressive style.
When I wrote of this adjustment period on DallasCowboys.com, I didn't feel like it was going to take the majority of the season to sort things out and make the adjustments scheme wise but other than Scandrick and Sterling Moore, who was added later in the season, this group struggled. For Brandon Carr, it was a season that he soon would forget. His play was far too inconsistent with games where he didn't appear as he was anywhere near the receiver in coverage, then others like back-to-back games against the Redskins and Eagles where he played with a shutdown ability, but the Lions game the following week, was a nightmare for him.
What was disappointing in watching that game was that Carr physically was the best man to handle Calvin Johnson and if he had just held him to half of those catches and yards, there was an outstanding chance of the Cowboys winning that day. Carr was never throughout the season to build on any type of momentum and it effected his overall play. His last two plays in the final Redskins game, might have been the best that he played all season which just showed me what he is capable of when he is on.
If there was a cornerback that embraced this scheme and system from the opening days of minicamps and OTAs, it was Orlando Scandrick. I have over the years been very critical in the way that Scandrick has played at times but this season was different for him. You can say what you want about Scandrick but there has been two times in his career where he has beat out the projected starter at his position. He did it with Mike Jenkins and now Morris Claiborne. This defense was under attack the entire season but I could not imagine what it would have been like, if Scandrick had not played to the level that he did. My views of him were that he was outstanding in the slot and dealing with the opponents best but in normal down-and-distance situations, he was the one cornerback on the field that was able to deny the ball from the receiver.
When you search for words to describe the type of season that Morris Claiborne experienced, there really is only one comes to mind, disappointing. For Claiborne, the last two seasons can be described that way. He has struggled with his confidence but that is only part of the story. Claiborne has yet to play an entire season because of various injuries. For such a young player, he has had to deal with far too many issues. For once I would like to see Claiborne come into a training camp where he is not dealing with a knee, hamstring or shoulder problem.
What is interesting about Claiborne is that in the final game of the season against the Eagles, it was probably the healthiest that he had been all season and it was one of his better performances. He was outstanding that night with his ability to mirror DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant. He was moving well and when he had to drive on the ball to make a tackle, he was right where he needed to be. I understand why fans feel with the way they do about Morris Claiborne but I feel like it is way too early to write him off. It's not always easy to have patience with players especially ones that were drafted in the position that Claiborne was but in his case, I still give him a chance going forward.
In the theme of showing patience that I discussed with Morris Claiborne, I feel you have to take the same approach with B.W. Webb and what he could potentially bring to this defense. I understand there were plenty of chances for Webb to have to make plays and he was clearly not up to the challenge. I am not here to try and make excuses for him and there is no question that he has to play better but I believe that you will see a jump for him from his rookie season to 2014.
There are traits that he has that successful cornerbacks have in this league. His biggest issue is experience and the understanding of how he needs to play these routes in coverage and not be scared to put himself in position to make a play on the ball. There is an ease of movement to his game, along with quickness and a burst to fight receivers in routes. There were just too [embedded_ad] many times this season where he was entirely too cautious in the way he played routes. There are few receivers in this league that can out run or quick him, but if he doesn't drive on the route or play the ball, I don't care how fast he is, he is not going to make a play. I thought this season was a great learning experience for him and how progresses in this off season will tell you a great deal of what kind of player he could become. Again, we need to show the kid some patience and you might be surprised.
Sterling Moore will get another chance in training camp and he deserves that. I was surprised that he did not make the team in the first place because he was one of my Top 10 Players coming out of camp in Oxnard. There is nothing flashy about the way Moore plays but there is some consistency to his game that any secondary can use. Once he was back on the roster, it allowed the coaches to have another option when they went to their nickel and dime packages, instead of having to go with a rookie at that spot.
It was a difficult year for these corners and as mentioned, the scheme change had something to do with that but collectively, they need to play better. Another year in the scheme should help but it is also on this group to step up and find ways to make plays despite whatever situation they are placed in.