For Cowboys' corners, time to take the ball away

With training camp starting next week in Oxnard, California, we offer up a position-by-position preview.


Who’s back: Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Tyler Patmon, Robert Steeples

Who they added: Byron Jones (first-round draft pick), Corey White (free agent), Jason Wilson (undrafted free agent), Joel Ross (undrafted free agent)

Who’s gone: Sterling Moore, Micah Pellerin

Roster spots available: Five or six

Key question: Can this group get enough takeaways?

Of the 18 interceptions recorded by the Cowboys in 2014, only four came from their cornerbacks. Only once since 2010 has a corner held the outright team lead in picks and that came in 2012 when Carr had three.

There have been scheme changes and pass-rush changes over the past few years that have affected the cornerback’s play to a degree. A better pass rush should help the cornerbacks, which is why the Cowboys signed Greg Hardy and added Randy Gregory in the second round. They believe DeMarcus Lawrence will blossom in his second year and Jeremy Mincey, who led the team in sacks with six last year, can continue to be steady.

At the end of last season the odds didn’t seem to favor Carr’s return with a $12.7 million cap figure. As of now, he still counts that against the cap with the Cowboys believing his play in the final six weeks of the season, including playoffs, was a sign he had turned a corner. The Cowboys rewarded Scandrick with a restructured contract after he had his best season. They drafted Jones in the first round in part to cover for Claiborne now and in the future.

In a division with Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, the Cowboys' corners will be tested. They need to turn those tests into interceptions.

Quick thought: The Cowboys continue to hail the work of Claiborne in the offseason. Perhaps they are just holding out hope that he will finally reach his potential in the final year of his rookie contract. Perhaps they are talking him up to bolster a confidence that has waned. Perhaps they have no other choice.

Claiborne is down to his final chance with the Cowboys. They didn’t pick up his fifth-year option for 2016 with more injuries than interceptions (three) in his career. He suffered a torn patella tendon in the fourth game of last season, which is a tremendously difficult injury to return from for any player let alone a cornerback. Claiborne’s weight dropped to 150 pounds as he recovered. He is back in the 170-pound range and hoped to add more bulk between the June minicamp and the start of training camp.

The Cowboys should view anything Claiborne gives them as a bonus, but if he can solidify the No. 3 cornerback spot behind Scandrick and Carr, then the Cowboys would have more options available in their scheme. They could move Jones, their first-round pick, to safety, or possibly do the same with White.

But before anybody gets carried away there’s this sobering reminder: Claiborne has yet to make it through a training camp in his career without missing time because of injuries.