Claiborne staying grounded during rookie year

ARLINGTON, Texas – You don’t have to worry about Morris Claiborne’s ego getting the best of him. Even after hearing Jerry Jones and others compare him to Deion Sanders before he’d even stepped on the practice field, Claiborne has done a nice job staying grounded.

And when I asked him to come up with the most valuable lesson he’s learned during his seven-game NFL career, Claiborne didn’t hesitate.

“I learned not to stay outside on a wide receiver when we’re in zero coverage,” he told me Wednesday. “That will stick with me forever.”

Claiborne’s referring to a touchdown he gave up to Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester. He allowed Hester to cross his face on his way to a 31-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-7 lead early in the second half. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler described it this way: “We killed the guy.”

But Claiborne seems to be a quick study when it comes to learning from his mistakes. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was dismissive of Claiborne with some of his comments heading into last Sunday’s game, but the rookie cornerback held him in check for much of the game. Neither Nicks nor Victor Cruz were able to do significant damage in the Giants’ 29-24 win.

“I think making a mistake can be a good thing in the long run,” Claiborne said. “Making the wrong decision against the Bears ended up making me a better player.”

A couple weeks ago, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan got tired of hearing how his unit wasn’t causing any turnovers. He decided to start referring to them as “takeovers,” and the Cowboys have actually had four in the past two games. Claiborne had an interception in a win against the Panthers and he recovered a fumble against the Giants last Sunday that helped spark a comeback. Brandon Carr was signed to a $50 million contract in free agency, but it’s not like he’s been tat much better than Claiborne through seven games.

The Cowboys are third in the NFL against the pass, allowing 187.7 yards per game. And only three teams have given up fewer passing touchdowns than the seven Dallas has allowed. Everyone wondered how the Cowboys would respond to the loss of inside linebacker Sean Lee, in part because he did an outstanding job checking into the right calls. But according to Claiborne and others, safety Gerald Sensabaugh picked up a lot of the slack in the Giants game.

“Gerald’s doing more than most people realize,” said Claiborne. “Everyone’s pitching in to make up for Sean, but it was Gerald who really took over a lot of times.”

As I’ve said several times recently, this is an enormous opportunity for Ryan. He’s made it very clear that he wants to be a head coach in the league like his twin brother, Rex. And having the Cowboys defense finish among the best in the league without one of its top players might make him a strong candidate.

Of course, Ryan would become a much more attractive candidate if the Cowboys actually strung a few wins together. The Atlanta Falcons are 7-0 despite having one of the worst run defenses in the league (26). But the Falcons have seven more interceptions than the Cowboys and five more forced fumbles. In fact, veteran defensive end John Abraham is tied for third in the league with three forced fumbles to go along with his seven sacks.

But Claiborne thinks that more “takeovers” are on the way based on the past two games.

“Those things come in waves,” he said. “And you can tell they’re about to start coming.”