OXNARD, Calif. – Rob Ryan's creative juices were supposed to be able to flow freely this season.
After acquiring Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys boasted a bunch of capable cornerbacks, repairing the Dallas defense’s biggest hole from last season. With no lockout, the wild-haired defensive wizard had a whole offseason to implement the wide array of wrinkles in his scheme.
Only two problems: Claiborne’s health and Mike Jenkins' health.
Claiborne missed the entire offseason while recovering from wrist surgery and participated in only a few training camp practices before spraining his knee. The Cowboys hope the first-round pick will be back on the field next week.
Jenkins, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery, won’t be cleared to practice for at least another couple of weeks. It’s far from certain he’ll be available for the season opener.
“We want to get him playing,” coach Jason Garrett said, “and then we’ll talk about creativity with our scheme.”
For Claiborne, it’s about learning the scheme and making the transition to the NFL. The coaches praise Claiborne for his diligent mental preparation, but the rookie needs practice reps to get ready to cover receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
“He’s a smart player,” Garrett said. “He understands the game. He understands it intellectually in the meeting room and understands it on the practice field. You can see that. We saw it on tape at LSU and we saw it in his practices with us, but he needs time on task. He needs to practice against NFL receivers, play against NFL receivers.”
For Jenkins, it’s about figuring out how to use him.
Jenkins has been solely an outside corner in his first four seasons, but the Cowboys plan to use Carr and Claiborne in that role. The Cowboys are confident Jenkins can play in the slot, but it’s not exactly ideal for him to be learning on the job while Cruz tries to get into the end zone to do his salsa dance.
It’s also possible that Jenkins could play some safety in certain packages that use Barry Church in a safety/linebacker hybrid role.
“Could he do that? Absolutely, he could,” Ryan said. “But we’ve got to get him on the field.”