OXNARD, Calif. – Morris Claiborne acknowledges that last year was an embarrassing one for the Dallas Cowboys defense.
As you’re probably aware, the Cowboys finished last in the NFL in total defense, allowing 415 yards and 27 points per game.
"It’s definitely embarrassing," Claiborne said, "especially when you know the type of talent you have on the team, but it’s just not showing up."
There weren’t many significant additions made in the off-season. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are gone and Sean Lee is out for the year with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Henry Melton was signed to replace Hatcher and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was drafted in the second round to replace Ware.
The Cowboys need big years from both Melton and Lawrence as well as defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury.
A notable positive, the defense should have a better understanding of the Tampa-2 scheme now entering its second year. Also, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and chief operating officer Stephen Jones say the group is better on paper than it was at the end of last season.
So, what does Claiborne think?
"We were last in the league in defense and we’re trying to be No. 1," he said. "That’s our goal. We’re not shying away from it."
While that might seem ridiculous, you only have to go back a year to see how the New Orleans Saints quickly turned things around. After finishing last in the league in total defense in 2012, former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan helped New Orleans finish fourth in 2013.
When asked how the Cowboys can do the same, head coach Jason Garrett pointed to the team’s youth.
"(This team is) way younger than it was three years ago and we think that’s a good thing," Garrett said. "That shows up on our defense. It shows up on our defensive line. So we’re going to give a lot of players opportunities to show what they can do.
"And we might play a little bit differently. We might play with more guys on the front. We might play with more guys at the linebacker level as guys are competing for spots to establish themselves. So we’re excited about our team."