LSU’s Morris Claiborne Aims To Follow Mentor Patrick Peterson’s NFL Success
INDIANAPOLIS – Morris Claiborne wasn’t even playing for Louisiana State when one of its marquee cornerbacks, Patrick Peterson, began challenging him.
Claiborne, labeled an athlete coming out of Shreveport, La., didn’t have a clear position. He was a receiver in high school, but Peterson saw something special in the 5-foot-11, 180-pound speedster.
“He was my host on my visit, so he was always like, ‘You’ve gotta come play corner. You’ve gotta come play corner,” Claiborne said.
And when he entered training camp in August 2009, the message didn’t change.
“Every day at practice, that’s what he was telling me,” Claiborne said. “I figured at least I’d try it. ‘You a corner. You a corner.’ I took his advice and the coaches’ as well, and it turned out well for me.”
Claiborne emerged as one of the better cornerbacks in the country with the Tigers, taking over as a starter beginning his sophomore year and being part of a team that won, on average, 11 games during his three years.
It was apparent how much Claiborne had grown this weekend at the NFL Combine. Without a position just three years ago, Claiborne began the four-day interview process as the player well-regarded to be the best cornerback eligible for the NFL Draft in April.
“I know the NFL is a whole different level than college, and I know I’m going to have to pick up on that, but I believe I can,” Claiborne said.
There’s a chance he may have to do so for the Washington Redskins. As the owner of the No. 6 pick and facing a multitude of needs in the secondary, the team has been heavily connected to Claiborne – a player who has the potential to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL for years.
He met with Washington coaches informally on Saturday night, and as of mid-day Sunday, he didn’t know if the Redskins were one of the teams who had scheduled a formal interview with him in the coming days.
What is clear, though, is that Claiborne, with experience playing man-to-man, in zone coverage and as a nickelback on a slot receiver, could benefit the Redskins nearly immediately.
DeAngelo Hall, the popular cornerback, struggled mightily at times throughout last season, his third on a six-year, $55 million contract, and at one point near the end of the year was so dissatisfied with his own play he declared he’s release himself if he was making personnel decisions.
The team signed Josh Wilson to a three-year, $13.5 million contract in July, and while members of the coaching staff insisted they were increasingly satisfied by Wilson’s play as the season went on, he wasn’t the playmaking cornerback they expected. Kevin Barnes, the nickelback, struggled in coverage, and Byron Westbrook is a restricted free agent.
That could lead to an opening – and an immediate impact – for Claiborne.
“He’s obviously physical, very fast, can run with a receiver,” said LSU teammate Ron Brooks, himself at Lucas Oil Stadium for the combine and a shot to play in the NFL. “[At LSU], whatever we’re doing that day, whatever techniques we’re working on, we try to be the best at them. Not as individuals, but as a group.”
That’s a mentality that was instilled by Peterson, who recently completed his rookie year in Arizona and earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl last month. The 21-year-old was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, his final season, and walked away with the Bednarik and Thorpe awards for the nation’s best defensive player and best defensive back, respectively, aft that season.
Peterson’s advice for Claiborne was simple – “Just go out here and try to work this combine,” Claiborne said he told him in a phone conversation before leaving – and that’s what he’ll try to do.
His goal is to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range, putting himself in position to be chosen high in the first round two months from now – and potentially to make as much of an impact next season as Peterson did with the Cardinals in his first.
“We’re competitive,” Claiborne said. “We’re always trying to make each other better, and making each other better means if he’s going to do something, you’ve got to try to do it better than him. And he’s going to try to come back and do it better than you.”