For yet another training camp, hype and expectations are building around Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback Morris Claiborne.
The former sixth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play during his time in Dallas. These flaws have come with a fair share of criticism, as fans wait anxiously for Claiborne to become the player we all hoped he’d be when the Cowboys traded up to snatch him.
After coming off what was his best season yet, early reports of Claiborne’s performance in training camp have been positive. Yesterday, RJ Ochoa discussed how Claiborne is being used defensively thus far, as he is currently working as the number one corner on the right side.
While Claiborne’s performance on defense will ultimately be what we judge him by, he is also looking to the often forgotten third phase of the game to make his presence felt this season, special teams.
For the past two years, Claiborne has been repeatedly asking special teams coach Rich Bisaccia to let him return some punts and kickoffs, as he did in college. Based off of both the voluntary programs in the Spring and Monday’s practice, it appears that Bisaccia has finally conceded to Claiborne’s request.
Morris Claiborne,The Returner
During his time at LSU, Claiborne was a dynamic return man. Averaging 26.3 yards per return, and returning a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, Claiborne is the seventh most prolific returner in school history in terms of yardage. He also returned a total of two kicks in 19 tries for touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons at LSU.
As a Cowboy, Claiborne has not been afforded the opportunity to return many kicks. The concerns that come with putting Claiborne back there are abundant and clear.
First and foremost, Claiborne at least seems to be somewhat injury prone based on his injury history with the Cowboys. Last year was about as healthy as he’s been for an entire season, and he still missed some time with a hamstring injury.
The Cowboys might also be a little less wary of trying Claiborne out as a returner if he wasn’t so vital to this already depleted defense. Right now, he seems to be competing for the starting right cornerback job with Brandon Carr. Even if Carr ends up being the starter, Claiborne will still play a ton of snaps each game, and will be needed to excel when on the field.
When you combine his injury history with his importance to this team, making him the kickoff returner seems sort of illogical.
But, if Morris Claiborne is both able to perform and be successful in the return game, what would that mean for the rest of this team?
We are all aware of the competition going on for what seems to be just five roster spots among the wide receivers. With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley being locks to make the team, there are only two spots left to be challenged for by a boatload of guys.
At the moment, it seems like Lucky Whitehead may also be a lock to make the team as a receiver, in large part because of his versatility in the return game. But if Morris Claiborne can take over this role full time, Whitehead will all of a sudden become more expendable. I like Lucky Whitehead and personally hope he makes the team, but if Claiborne can double as a returner, his chances of retaining a roster spot certainly diminish a bit. Especially once running back and possible return man Lance Dunbar returns from his injury rehab.
In the end, though, I don’t believe the coaches will be willing to risk Morris Claiborne in the return game. We all know how weak the Cowboys are up-front defensively, so they will need the back end of their defense to pick up some of the slack and buy their pass rushers more time.
Morris Claiborne must play a vital role in doing just that.