Jones acknowledged the painfully obvious about as delicately as possible.
That's an awfully optimistic view of a third-year cornerback who has been picked on consistently throughout his career. Of course, it’s coming from the same mouth that declared that Claiborne was the Cowboys’ top-graded cornerback draft prospect since Deion Sanders when they made the bold move to trade up for him.
If Jones wanted to criticize Claiborne, he could have called him the biggest bust in Cowboys’ history. That’s a brutally honest view of a sixth overall pick who isn’t one of the top three corners on a defense that was the NFL’s worst last season.
If Claiborne is upset that he’s being replaced in the base defense by Orlando Scandrick -- for the second straight season -- he’s simply delusional. Sterling Moore, an undrafted player who was unemployed for several weeks last season after being cut by the Cowboys in late August, should be the Cowboys’ third corner based on merit.
That’s pretty pathetic for a player the Cowboys projected to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
The Cowboys keep trying to pump up Claiborne. They heaped praise on him during training camp until he got hurt for the third straight summer, going out of their way to massage an ego even more fragile than his body. Head coach Jason Garrett politely referred to Claiborne as a “developing player” last week when asked to assess the cornerback’s development relative to expectations when Dallas made the draft-night deal with the St. Louis Rams.
The reality is that Claiborne, whose game-sealing pick of an overthrown pass in Sunday's win over the Rams doesn't erase the fact that he got torched all day, appears to be regressing. ProFootballFocus.com’s grades ranked him 80th among cornerbacks as a rookie, 88th last season and 91st through three games this season.
There have been many Cowboys first-round picks who have been huge disappointments. Many fans begin that list with Bill Parcells’ hand-picked linebacker Bobby Carpenter, an 18th overall pick. But the price has never been as high for a bust as it was with Claiborne, who cost the Cowboys picks that turned into solid defensive tackle Michael Brockers and Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery.
That makes Claiborne the biggest bust in Cowboys history. Handling this demotion by leaving the facility in a huff only adds to it.
That’s the painful truth, whether Claiborne can handle it or not.
IRVING, Texas -- Cornerback Morris Claiborne skipped the Dallas Cowboys' walk-through practice and angrily left the club's Valley Ranch training facility Tuesday after being informed that Orlando Scandrick was replacing him in the starting lineup, multiple sources said.
The Cowboys could fine Claiborne for missing the practice or conduct detrimental to the team. Claiborne has started two of the Cowboys' three games amid Scandrick's 2-game suspension to start the season.
Claiborne's demotion came a few hours after Jerry Jones said on his weekly radio show that the third-year cornerback had not been worth the sixth pick of the 2012 draft, which Dallas moved up to acquire.
"Is he what we had hoped for at this point when we drafted him with the sixth overall pick, giving up the [second-round] pick to go up to the sixth pick to get him? No," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. "But he's going to be a good player."
On Sunday, Claiborne allowed five receptions for 108 yards and a 51-yard touchdown pass as the St. Louis Rams took a 21-0 second-quarter lead before the Cowboys rallied to win 34-31. He also gave up a 38-yard catch and was penalized once for defensive holding.
Still, he made two of the game's biggest plays on St. Louis' final possession.
He pressured St. Louis quarterback Austin Davis into an incompletion, when he perfectly executed a corner blitz. And two plays later, he made a leaping interception to clinch the victory.
It was the third interception of his career.
Melton said he was able to do some work before Tuesday’s walkthrough and felt good.
Melton said he suffered the injury early in the game. When the offense was on the field, he kept his leg in a wrap and took it off when it was time for the defense to take the field.
“I didn’t want to take myself out so to keep it warm I just kept wrapping it,” Melton said.
This is the second muscle strain Melton has suffered this season. He missed three preseason games because of a groin strain suffered in training camp. Coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament after three games last season with the Chicago Bears, Melton said he “might be overcompensating a little bit, but all I can do every week is just work and whatever happens, happens.”
If Melton can’t play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the Cowboys might have to scramble at defensive tackle. Rookie Davon Coleman, who started the opener against the San Francisco 49ers, did not play last week because of a calf strain suffered in the weight room.
Terrell McClain could be an option at the three technique. He missed the first game but has played the last two and has been credited with three tackles by the coaches.
Justin Durant, who has missed the last two games because of a groin injury, said he will be at least a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice and plans to play Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints.
“That’s the goal,” said Durant, a defensive captain who had 11 tackles in the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers. “We’re going to see how it goes tomorrow and go from there.”
It’s less likely that Rolando McClain, who was inactive in last week’s win over the St. Louis Rams because of a groin injury, will be available against the Saints. McClain said he feels better than last week but is not ready to return to practice.
Rookie linebacker Keith Smith, who was promoted from the practice squad Saturday to provide depth against the Rams and waived Monday, has cleared waivers and will be re-signed to the practice squad.
1) I think Scott Linehan has done a fantastic job, thus far, of getting the ball into the hands of his best offensive players. Of the Cowboys 191 offensive plays this season, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant have touched the ball 103 times, which is 54 percent.
If you add the incomplete passes directed toward the duo, then Linehan has directed 59 percent of the team’s plays toward those two players. And he likes to get each of them involved early.
2) I think Orlando Scandrick is the best blitzer on the team. He has a knack for timing his rush just right out of the slot, and making the most of his opportunities.
Against St. Louis, he forced an incompletion with heavy pressure in the second quarter. And in the fourth quarter, he drilled quarterback Austin Davis contributing to Bruce Carter's interception and subsequent 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Cowboys have two sacks through three games, which is why Rod Marinelli is probably going to be sending Scandrick after the quarterback more regularly.
3) I think it’ll be interesting to see how Murray’s body withstands the rigors of the season, if his current workload continues.
He rushed 24 times for 100 yards against St. Louis and currently leads the NFL in carries (75) and yards (385). In his first three seasons, he had 11 games with 20 carries or more, but he hadn’t done it in consecutive games since his rookie year.
The only real question about Murray has been his durability, since he’s missed 11 games in three years. At this rate, all of those questions will be answered this season.
KEY STAT: 12
Dez Bryant has caught a team-high 20 catches, but 12 have gone for fewer than 10 yards. At some point this season, Linehan will have to stretch the field and give Bryant more opportunities to make plays downfield.
Against the Rams, Bryant caught a 68-yard pass for a touchdown. His other five receptions went for 9,1,5,3 and 3 yards.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Anthony Hitchens
It was good to see a draft pick not taken in the first or second round make a real contribution to a Cowboys’ win as a rookie.
Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, made his first career start at middle linebacker with Rolando McClain out with a strained groin.
He finished with a team-high 13 tackles. Yes, several of them were more than 5 yards downfield, but he made a huge stop on fourth down in the third quarter and he made a nifty pass deflection in the red zone.
More important, he played as though he belonged. Now, he can ease some of the burden on Rolando McClain and help keep him fresh since he’s already banged up.
To stretch it back to Week 17 of the 2013 season, Murray has fumbled in four straight regular-season games.
Week 17, 2013 vs. Philadelphia
Situation: First and 10, Philadelphia 28 (first series of the game)
The play: Murray takes a Kyle Orton handoff to the right side of the Cowboys’ line as he breaks through the line, the ball is held low in his right hand by his hip. Philadelphia linebacker Mychal Kendricks hits Murray low and the ball pops free to cornerback Bradley Fletcher for the turnover.
Week 1, 2014 vs. San Francisco
Situation: First and 10, Dallas 33 (first series of the game)
The play: On a stretch play to the left, Murray is gang tackled but as he is going to the ground the ball is away from his body. Niners linebacker Dan Skuta rips Murray’s left hand off the ball to create the fumble. Chris Culliver returns the fumble for a touchdown.
Week 2, 2014 at Tennessee
Situation: First and 10, Dallas 43 (second series of the game)
The play: Murray runs to the right side of the Dallas line and cuts to his right after getting through the line. As he is about to get tackled, wide receiver Devin Street is pushed back into Murray and his elbow pokes the ball away from Murray, who did not have the ball secured to his chest.
Week 3, 2014 at St. Louis
Situation: Third and 4, St. Louis 45 (first series of the game)
The play: Tony Romo checks a pass to Murray, who picks up 9 yards for a first down. As he makes a move, cornerback Janoris Jenkins trips Murray and his right arm separates from his body. Linebacker Alec Ogletree hits and strips Murray from behind to knock the ball free.
"High and tight" is a common refrain for coaches at all levels. Who can ever forget former tight ends coach John Garrett reminding Martellus Bennett of it every day on "Hard Knocks"? Murray hasn't had the ball high and tight on his turnovers.
Garrett said the Cowboys do ball security drills, watch film and have other ways of preaching the importance of holding the ball. For the bulk of Murray's career, he has not been a fumbler, but with three in the first three games this season teams will know they can rip the ball free from him and will make even more attempts to do so going forward.
“There’s no question that people in this league understand guys that have had trouble with ball security, and they go after it," Garrett said. “But I think players in this league -- defensive linemen, linebackers, DBs, guys on special teams -- I think they're masters at going to get the football. I think everybody has a responsibility to understand that they're a target and certainly a guy like DeMarco Murray, who’s carried the ball as many times as he has in his career, understands that. He has to do a better job. We'll continue to do everything we can as coaches to make sure he secures the football better."
Sometimes money, personalities and front-office desires can overtake that simple mantra.
If Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett wants to maintain credibility not only outside the locker room but also inside, then Morris Claiborne cannot play starter’s snaps.
The Cowboys gave up their second-round draft pick in 2012 to move up to No. 6 in the first round to take Claiborne. But he’s yet to live up to those expectations or come close to the player the Cowboys said had their highest defensive back grade since Deion Sanders.
Whatever the reason, it just hasn’t happened. And it doesn’t look like it will ever happen.
Even owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said Claiborne is not the guy they thought he would be, but he also said he can be a good player. The Cowboys talk about Claiborne’s ability to play the ball but they always have to reference his time at LSU, not the first 28 games of his career.
The Cowboys shouldn’t question whether Claiborne should start over Orlando Scandrick. That’s a question even the unwashed masses in the media can figure out. Scandrick is a better player. The Cowboys have to determine whether Claiborne should play over Sterling Moore in the sub packages.
Moore played well in the slot in Scandrick’s absence to start the season because of a suspension. Garrett said Moore could play outside if needed as well. Claiborne played 53 snaps against the St. Louis Rams last week. Moore played two.
Garrett has made this type of decision before. He benched Bruce Carter more than once last year when the linebacker was struggling badly in favor of Ernie Sims. They benched Will Allen last year for J.J. Wilcox at safety, eventually cutting the veteran in a move that might have been too hasty in retrospect. Garrett put right tackle Doug Free on notice in the past, rotating plays with Jermey Parnell, and saw Free respond with better play.
Claiborne’s struggles are not for a lack of work. He put in the time in the offseason to get stronger and more fit. He put in time with the coaches. But something is missing. He talks confidently but he does not play confidently.
Maybe the end-of-game interception against the Rams turns a light on for Claiborne and he figures it out.
The New Orleans Saints come to AT&T Stadium on Sunday with an offense that can spread defenses out like no other. If the Cowboys continue to roll with Claiborne, even as their third cornerback, and he continues to get beat, then they must do something.
In a way Garrett’s job could depend on it.
The Cowboys have yet to play against a dominant passing game. In the first three games, they have faced Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker and Austin Davis. On Sunday, they face Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
The best way to challenge a quarterback is with a dominating pass rush. Through three games the Cowboys have just three sacks. Without pressure, quarterbacks can do what they want against defenses. Davis, who was making just his second career start, completed 71.4 percent of his passes and threw for 327 yards. He was not sacked, nor was he affected enough. Brees is coming off a game in which he completed 77 percent of his passes (27 of 35) vs. the Minnesota Vikings. The last time Brees saw the Cowboys, he completed 83 percent of his passes (34 of 41) as the Saints rolled by the Cowboys last year at the Superdome.
The Cowboys had no answer for the Saints, giving up an NFL-record 40 first downs and 625 yards.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys failed when they brought pressure or played zone. Brees was 9-of-9 with two touchdowns when the Cowboys brought five or more pass-rushers and 6-of-6 when the Cowboys blitzed a member of the secondary.
Sitting in zone coverage might not be the answer either, as the Cowboys have not displayed the ability to match up well in a zone either.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to mix up the looks he gives Brees, but he might be helped more if Tony Romo & Co., keep Brees off the field.
Durant went through an extensive pregame warm-up before the Cowboys’ win against the St. Louis Rams and the hope is he can practice and return to man either the weakside or middle linebacker spots, depending on the health of Rolando McClain. McClain did not play against the Rams because of a groin injury and his availability for practice this week is uncertain.
Smith played in two defensive and nine special-teams snaps against the Rams. If he clears waivers, then the Cowboys will re-sign him to the practice squad.
The Cowboys will re-sign defensive end Lavar Edwards to take Smith’s spot. He was released in order to make room for Smith. The Cowboys acquired Edwards in a trade from the Tennessee Titans after the final cuts for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. If he is on the 53-man roster for 10 regular-season games, the Cowboys will have to give up a seventh-rounder in 2015.
Romo, who did core strength exercises instead of practicing last Wednesday, felt and moved much better than he had in the previous two weeks during Sunday’s comeback win over the St. Louis Rams. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and had a key 16-yard scramble that probably wouldn’t have been possible if his surgically repaired back was as stiff as it’s been.
Should the Cowboys make missing Wednesday’s practice part of the routine for Romo?
“It certainly helped him last week,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He looked better as the week wore on, both Thursday and Friday in practice. And I think he looked his best in the game.
“So we’ll evaluate how he feels and what the best thing is to do. We’re not going to make any grand proclamations about what we’re going to do for all the weeks in the rest of the season. We’re just going to take it day by day, week by week.”
The Cowboys have based Romo’s rest days since the start of training camp primarily on feedback from him about how he’s feeling. He did not practice three consecutive days until the first two weeks of the regular season, when he didn’t miss any practices.
Romo reported to the coaches Wednesday morning that his back felt stiff, so the decision was made for him to spend practice in the weight room doing core strength exercises. Romo said he’d discuss the matter with Garrett and offensive playcaller Scott Linehan, but he’s open to the idea that practicing only two times per week could be best for him considering the circumstances.
“I think more than anything, you have to kind of figure out what’s going to give everyone the best opportunity to play at your best,” Romo said. “If you’re just tired or sore, that’s just part of football. Nor does anyone get anything for that.
“It’s mostly just you want to have the functional strength that you might have without as many torqued situations during the week. I think with me, that was the benefit this week and we’ll see going forward how that reacts and everything. But it was a good week.”
That’s too easy of a wonder for the Forever .500 Cowboys.
Away we go:
- I wonder just how much Adrian Peterson could affect the Cowboys’ talks with DeMarco Murray. No, I don’t see the Cowboys going after Peterson, who has been put on the Minnesota Vikings’ exempt commissioner’s list with child abuse charges pending. But it could affect what the Cowboys do with Murray. I’ve wondered before if the Cowboys would be wise to sign Murray, who will be a free agent when the season ends, sooner rather than later to a solid if not outlandish deal. Think something in the $4 million per year range, maybe a little bit more. Maybe. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on Murray in 2015 if they get a deal done with wide receiver Dez Bryant. And that’s a big if. If they don’t get a multi-year deal with Bryant, then they will put the franchise tag on the receiver -- and there is only one tag to use. But for the sake of this wonder, let’s say a deal with Bryant gets done. What to do with Murray? I’m not sure it would be the best or wisest thing to do, but this is how Peterson is tied in: Had he been cut by the Vikings, then his $14.4 million cap figure would be off the books when the tag is figured next year. The tag this year was $9.54 million. It could go up to roughly $10 million next year. Without Peterson, that number goes down and maybe makes it more palatable.
- Through three games, I wonder how much more Henry Melton has to show to get the Cowboys to pick up the final three-year option on the deal he signed as a free agent in the offseason. The Cowboys have to exercise the option by the first day of the 2015 league year, which would earn Melton a fully guaranteed $9 million base salary. The base salaries in 2016 and ’17 are $7.5 million. I don’t want to get carried away on tackle statistics because defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a tough grader, but has Melton played at a level worth that kind of money yet? He had a key fumble recovery in the second quarter against the Rams, but he has not affected the quarterback much. The three-technique is the key spot in this defense. Jason Hatcher was able to put up 11 sacks last year playing that spot. Maybe Hatcher had more help with teams having to pay attention to DeMarcus Ware, even a less-than-100 percent Ware. The Cowboys do not have an end that will generate that extra look from an offense, so Melton is in a bind. Every dollar counts in the salary cap, as we detailed above, so after three games the Cowboys will need to see more from Melton, who has a hamstring injury.
- I wonder if the return of fullback Nikita Whitlock to the practice squad puts pressure on Tyler Clutts to keep his spot on the 53-man roster. If you’ve followed this space, you know I’m not a big fan of the position Clutts plays. This is not a knock on him, necessarily, but he’s played 25 snaps in the first three games. Against the Rams, he was on the field for 10 plays, including two kneeldowns by Tony Romo. In the eight runs, Murray had 27 yards and a 1-yard touchdown. Six of the eight carries went for a yard or less. I wonder if the Cowboys are planting a seed with Whitlock and hope to see it grow later on in the regular season. Whitlock is a converted defensive tackle and impressed with his work in the preseason for the Cincinnati Bengals, but he doesn’t have the flexibility to help in other areas. I believe Murray does his best work without a fullback, so you know where I stand on this. I just think it’s curious the Cowboys have two fullbacks in the building when they barely use the one on their 53-man roster.
- I wonder if the Cowboys will finish with an offensive player leading the team in special teams’ tackles. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris, running back Joseph Randle and tight end James Hanna are in contention through three games. Normally offensive players do not play such a significant role on the coverage teams because they are not as familiar with tackling. Think about it, how often do they have to break down and stop somebody? Besides interceptions and fumble returns, not often. The Cowboys put the offensive players through tackling drills during the week, introducing them to the fundamentals of it and keeping it fresh in their minds. There has to be a fearlessness to play special teams. Harris has it as a returner and a coverage guy. Randle has showed that early on. Hanna is steady. Running back Lance Dunbar does a decent job as a punt gunner as well.
- I wonder if the Cowboys have a newfound discipline. Through three games they have been penalized 17 times for 112 yards and have had fewer penalties than their opponent in each game. The offensive line did not have a penalty against a strong St. Louis Rams defensive front. It might be too soon to wonder this, though. Through three games last year the Cowboys were penalized 16 times for 139 yards but finished the season with 102 penalties for 867 yards. Maybe I’ll amend this wonder: I wonder if the Cowboys keep their penalty total to fewer than 100 this year. The last time they did that was in 2005, when they had 99 penalties for 739 yards.
Since 2010, the Cowboys have had Steratore as a referee three times and lost all three games. He worked the Week 17 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cowboys were not penalized in the game. In the past three games, Steratore’s crew has called 14 penalties for 111 yards against the Cowboys.
Last week the crew worked the Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers matchup. They threw 20 flags with 14 accepted penalties for 143 yards. The Niners had nine penalties for 107 yards, and the Cardinals had five penalties for 36 yards.
If last week is any indication, the Cowboys’ defensive backs must play it straight this week. This crew had six illegal use of hands, illegal contact, pass interference or defensive holding penalties.
12-men on the field: 1
Illegal contact: 2
Illegal use of hands: 2
Face mask: 2
False start: 2
Defensive holding: 1
Offensive holding: 3
Roughing the passer: 1
Unnecessary roughness: 2
Offensive pass interference: 1
Defensive pass interference: 1
Quarter by quarter: