FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Morris Claiborne is feeling great these days, ready to finally shed those dreaded labels.
Injury prone. Can’t stay healthy. Fragile.
The New York Jets cornerback has shown he can be one of the NFL’s top players at his position when he’s on the field, but various injuries and ailments have sidelined him for stretches throughout his career.
“The goal and the plan, like each and every year, is to stay healthy and stay on the football field for 16 games,” Claiborne said, “and give people the corner that the Jets are taking a chance on.”
After five injury-plagued seasons in Dallas, Claiborne is getting a fresh start after signing a $5 million, one-year deal with New York in March.
It was a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Jets, who have revamped their secondary and are hoping the 27-year-old Claiborne can be a key playmaker for their defense — for an entire season.
“(I’m) a guy who’s going to take away the whole side of the field that he’s on,” Claiborne said. “I feel like everybody in this league knows that, when I’m healthy, what I can do on the football field. But that’s been the thing: staying healthy. And I’m not running from that. That’s been my past and I accept it.”
After a terrific career at LSU, Claiborne was considered one of the top prospects in the 2012 draft. Dallas thought so highly of him that it traded up from No. 14 to No. 6 to snag him.
He missed minicamp and offseason activities as a rookie while recovering from a surgically repaired wrist, but impressed the Cowboys enough during training camp to win a starting job. He played in 15 games as a rookie — and that remains his career high after the injuries piled up:
—2013: 10 games played after a sprained knee in the preseason, dislocated left shoulder in the season opener and a hamstring injury.
—2014: just four games played after a torn left patellar tendon.
—2015: 11 games played while hampered by hamstring and ankle injuries.
—2016: seven games played after a severe groin injury, then hurt his ribs in the playoffs.
Claiborne has 151 tackles, four interceptions and 27 passes defensed in 47 career games over five seasons. And he has zero regrets.
“I wouldn’t have it no other way because each one of the things I’ve been through in my career that had me pushed back, I’ve learned a great deal from all of it,” Claiborne said. “If I could go back and do it all over, I’ll take it just the way it is now.”
In the team’s first practice of training camp on Saturday, Claiborne was all over the field while making two interceptions.
“He could help if he’s healthy, and that’s why we signed him,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s a good player. He just has to stay healthy.”
If he can do that, he’ll likely be the Jets’ top cornerback and replace Darrelle Revis, who was cut after a rough season during which he was no longer the dominant player he once was.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone else but the coaching staff here and myself,” Claiborne said. “I know who I am and I know when I’m healthy what I can do. And that plan right now is just staying healthy and staying on the football field and going out there and showing them.”
Claiborne said he traveled with the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver at times while in Dallas, depending on the schemes, and likely will again with the Jets.
After Dallas used mostly zone coverage last season, Claiborne said New York has been running more of a press coverage scheme and that allows him to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s been easy,” he said of making the transition to a new team. “At the end of the day, I feel like football is football.”
Claiborne wore No. 24 with the Cowboys, and asked for that jersey number in New York, where Revis wore it for eight seasons. The Jets asked Claiborne to choose another number — prompting some to speculate as to whether the team could eventually retire it in Revis’ honor. So Claiborne will wear No. 21 for the Jets.
“I understand the history behind that number,” Claiborne said. “A lot of people say, ‘You want that number, well, you’d have some big shoes to fill.’ Yeah, you’re right, but I’m not coming here to fill Revis’ shoes. Revis’ shoes are already filled and then some. Revis is that guy, and I still think Revis is one of the better cornerbacks in this league.
“But I’m here to fill my own shoes.”