Confidence and Comparisons: The Latest On Cowboys CB Claiborne

IRVING, Texas – Mo Claiborne needs technique. He needs confidence. He needs health.

But most of all, the struggling young Dallas Cowboys corner – the team’s No. 1 pick after it judged him to be the top defensive player in the 2012 NFL Draft — needs time.

Is there a technique problem that is contributing to the former LSU star being benched in favor of Orlando Scandrick? Yes, says coach Jason Garrett.

“When you’re playing technically sound and you have ability, you tend to have more and more confidence because you’re in the right place,” Garrett said.

Technical soundness leads to confidence. How’s your confidence, Mo?

“I don’t know why everyone keeps saying that,” Claiborne said, laughing. “It’s just one of those things. Guys catch balls in the NFL every day. It’s how you take it. We just have to bounce back and keep playing. Cornerbacks have to be confident. If you lose that, it’s not good.”

All of this can be impacted by Dallas’ new defensive scheme (a zone defense that asks “cover-corner” Claiborne to be more physical) and by the harness Claiborne wears during games to keep his dislocated shoulder in place.

“I’m not thinking about it. It’s not much of an issue,” Claiborne said. “It’s one of those things. If I hit it, it’ll hurt for a while. It’s not a circumstance of it coming out and coming back in.”

Meanwhile, Cowboys exec Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan, “It’s time for the injury thing to leave the scene. He needs to step up and make plays. I think he will.”

Is Mo Claiborne a bust? Does he suddenly have no chance at stardom?

While Jones’ impatience is understandable, history tells us that even the greatest cornerbacks in the annals of the NFL needed time to become standouts.

It’s time for a review of a study we did a year ago when we made a case for patience for Claiborne the rookie. A year has passed, and Claiborne is not playing well. But don’t many of the same rules apply?
Let’s use standard NFL honors as the measuring stick: A first Pro Bowl appearance … and then, for the rare player who is an all-time great, the NFL’s official All-Decade Teams.

A dozen cornerbacks have earned All-Decade honors for the decades of the ’80’s, ’90’s and 2000”s. As recognizable as these names are … and as brilliant as their talent was … you might be surprised to learn how long it took them to achieve Pro Bowl-level “stardom”:

All-NFL Team of The 80’s CBs

MIKE HAYNES – A first round pick in 1976, the Raiders corner intercepted eight passes to earn All-Rookie honors. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls including a berth as a rookie. So it took him his one NFL season to get recognition.

MEL BLOUNT – He was an All-Pro selection four times. But his first Pro Bowl didn’t come until ’75 .. and he was drafted in ’70. Blount sat the bench for almost three years before emerging as a Steelers standout … so it took him six seasons to make the Pro Bowl.

FRANK MINNIFIELD – He was on the All-Rookie team and later won first-team All-Pro honors from 1987-89. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection for the Browns, but his first Pro Bowl didn’t come until ’86 … meaning he had to wait three years.

LESTER HAYES – He entered the league in 1977 and was a first- or second-team All-Pro choice five times. But the Pro Bowl? He didn’t make it until 1980 … a four-year wait.

All-NFL Team of The 90’s CBs

DEION SANDERS – He entered the league in ’89 and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and is considered the best “cover corner” of all-time. But the Falcons draftee (and then NFL champ with the 49ers and Cowboys) didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until ’91 – a three-year wait.

ROD WOODSON– Another all-timer, named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Woodson earned 11 career Pro Bowl nods after coming into the league in ’87 … and then waiting until ’89 for his first Pro Bowl. A three-year wait.

DARRELL GREEN – The Redskins great entered the NFL in ’83 and made the Pro Bowl in ’84 after year two.

AENEAS WILLIAMS– The Cardinals standout – according to Troy Aikman second only to Deion as the best CB he ever opposed – came into the league in ’91 and earned first-team All-Pro honors four times. But not until ’94 was he a Pro Bowler – a wait of four years.

All-NFL Team of The 90’s CBs

CHAMP BAILEY – He was drafted by the Redskins in 1999 and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2000. A two-year wait.

CHARLES WOODSON – He was drafted by the Raiders in 1998, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for Green Bay a decade later, but was recognized immediately as a stud, making the Pro Bowl after his first season.

RONDE BARBER – A five-time Pro Bowler for the Bucs, he was drafted in ’97 and finally made the Pro Bowl in 2001 – a five-year wait.

TY LAW – Drafted in 1996, he qualified for the Pro Bowl in ’98. A three-year wait.

Add it up. Those 12 guys – the greatest cornerbacks of three eras – needed on average three full seasons before becoming Pro Bowlers. Haynes and Woodson made it after one year, so it’s possible to earn recognition right away. But six years for Blount? Four years for Hayes? Three years for Deion?

None of this is meant to serve as a prediction of Mo Claiborne’s eventual Pro Bowl status. This week, he’ll line up against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, with an offense that will be designed in part to further damage Claiborne’s technique, confidence and health.

“He’s just got to play better,” Garrett said, “and he will play better.”

Agreed Claiborne: “I’ve got to play better … I know that. This is a big game for us and a big challenge. We have to be on point.”

The Cowboys insist they have hope. History insists they will also need to have patience.