Commentary

Claiborne: In technique he must trust

To get QBs to respect him, Cowboys CB has to study overtime, practice and apply

Updated: October 3, 2013, 1:16 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Morris ClaiborneWesley Hitt/Getty Images

Morris Claiborne needs a big boost in confidence if he is to live up to the expectations of a No. 6 pick.

IRVING, Texas -- A friend of mine suggested Morris Claiborne should start playing with the same arrogant approach he used when he took the Wonderlic aptitude test at the NFL scouting combine.

It makes sense.

Claiborne will tell you he blew off the test. He reportedly scored a four; the maximum score is 50.

But Claiborne refused to let the score define him. He ignored what folks said about him and kept moving forward.

The best NFL cornerbacks think every ball caught by a receiver they are defending is a fluke. They believe they're the best player on the field. Their confidence is unbreakable.

Claiborne had that type of confidence in his game when he took the Wonderlic; he didn't let it bother him. These days he doesn't.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

"I can't listen to the noise, especially the stuff that gets said on Twitter by somebody sitting on the couch," Claiborne said.

He can't listen to folks labeling him a bust. He can't whine -- perception is reality -- about struggling to learn the zone concepts that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has brought to the Dallas Cowboys.

He can't get caught up in what keyboard gangsters say on Twitter and other social media platforms or what's written about him in newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

"I can't listen to the noise, especially the stuff that gets said on Twitter by somebody sitting on the couch," Claiborne said Wednesday. "It's not easy because where I come from, you just don't let somebody say anything to you without responding.

"But I can't do it. Sometimes, I look at my phone and delete what I was going to tweet because it's not worth it. All it's going to do is give them attention and cause me trouble."

This is the time for Claiborne to study as he has never studied. This is the time to practice and focus on attention to detail more than ever.

This is the time to stay after practice with secondary coach Jerome Henderson and study video of the different zone concepts he must master until he falls asleep thinking about them.

Then he has to take that knowledge to the field and make plays. That's the only way to persuade NFL quarterbacks to stop attacking him regularly.

We already know Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is going to pick on him relentlessly Sunday.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 6-of-7passes for 115 yards against him. For the season, ProFootballFocus.com indicates quarterbacks have completed 15-of-23 passes for 272 yards against Claiborne.

That's not good enough.

Especially for a dude who was the sixth pick in the 2012 draft. The Cowboys traded a second-round selection and swapped first-round picks with the St. Louis Rams to acquire Claiborne.

Now we have to wonder why.

It's because they had Claiborne rated as the second-best player on the draft board behind Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.

Yes, they had him ranked higher than Washington's Robert Griffin III. And Tampa Bay's Mark Barron. And Carolina's Luke Kuechly.

Jerry Jones also said Deion Sanders -- "Prime Time" himself -- is the only cornerback who ever received a higher grade from the Cowboys.

When you compare a player to Sanders, a playmaker extraordinaire, then you expect him to have more than one career interception. You expect him to be an impact player.

Frankly, Jones should quit doing that, whether he's comparing Dez Bryant to Michael Irvin or DeMarcus Ware to Charles Haley, because it puts such a burden on the player to reach those expectations.

Some handle it; others don't.

So far, if we're honest, we haven't consistently seen anything from Claiborne that makes us think we'll ever see a player who should be in the same sentence with Sanders.

When Bryant was a rookie, we all saw flashes such as the 93-yard punt return against the New York Giants. When Sean Lee was a rookie, we saw the two interceptions against Manning, one he returned for a touchdown in a win over the Colts. When DeMarco Murray was a rookie, we saw the 253-yard performance against the Rams.

Go ahead, name Claiborne's signature play. Or game.

You can't.

If quarterbacks are going to consistently target him, he must intercept passes or knock them down. He must give quarterbacks a reason to look another way.

"It's ridiculous to say I'm going to go out today and nobody is going to catch a ball on me," Claiborne said. "That's ridiculous. Everybody gets balls caught on them each and every day. I don't care who you are playing corner.

"It's what you do out there. You have to bounce back from that, and you have to come back and not let it happen again."

To do so, he must trust the technique Henderson teaches him. Technique puts cornerbacks in position to make plays.

Claiborne has every physical gift a cornerback could want in size, long arms and speed, but NFL receivers and quarterbacks are so gifted that talent alone won't get the job done.

Claiborne must trust his technique.

He can't worry about what happens if he doesn't jam the receiver perfectly at the line of scrimmage, because a tentative jam is worse than no jam. He can't play soft because he's afraid the receiver will run past him, because he's going to get beat anyway.

It can get worse. It will get worse.

Only Claiborne can stop the negative momentum. It begins with his attitude.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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