Morris Claiborne will be one to watch for LSU

Dave Moormann
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne returns an interception against Mississippi State. Claiborne, who led LSU in interceptions last season, returns as a top contributor.

Recently an LSU fan was told that Morris Claiborne appeared on the cover of a regional football magazine.

“Who?” the man replied. “I don’t know him.”

Goodness gracious and the man called himself an LSU football fan?

The sad fact is that the unknowing man is not alone. There are more people than there should be who aren’t familiar with Claiborne.

Give them time. They will know Claiborne soon enough. Now that Claiborne is out from Patrick Peterson’s shadow, the junior cornerback from Shreveport can grab headlines on his own merit.

Peterson, a cornerback, himself, was the toast of LSU last season in winning a host of postseason awards and going fifth in the NFL Draft after his junior season.

Peterson won’t be missed as much as he might have been if LSU didn’t have someone of Claiborne’s stature.

It helps, too, that the Tigers have sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who was the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the 2011 Cotton Bowl.

Mathieu capped his star-studded first season with two forced fumbles after having led the Southeastern Conference by forcing five during the regular season.

Mathieu also led LSU with seven pass break-ups in addition to intercepting two passes.

But who led LSU with five interceptions last season? A hint. It wasn’t Peterson.

That leaves the forgotten Claiborne, who will be anything but overlooked this year. Several publications rightly have named him a preseason All-American, and he’s been added to the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is one of the few postseason honors Peterson didn’t receive last season. Glenn Dorsey became LSU’s only Nagurski winner in 2007.

It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Claiborne will become the second to receive the award given to the nation’s best defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club.

Claiborne certainly has the ability to do it. He was fourth in the SEC last season with 11 passes defended and joined Peterson and Mathieu in giving LSU the league’s top pass defense.

Mathieu also is on the Bednarik watch list, as is senior linebacker Ryan Baker, who had a team-high seven quarterback sacks among his 87 total tackles that ranked second on the team and 13th in the SEC last season.

Peterson became LSU’s first Bednarik recipient last year while receiving the Maxwell Football Club’s honor at the ESPN College Football Awards.

If Claiborne is there in December, there won’t be many people who haven’t heard of the 6-foot, 177-pounder.

Rest assured LSU’s opponents know all about Claiborne, who became the first LSU player since LaRon Landry in 2006 to intercept passes in back-to-back games.

No less than Peterson is aware of Claiborne’s talents. Before last season, Peterson said he taught Claiborne “everything I know.”

Peterson wasn’t bragging, just stating a fact. The results point to Peterson’s teaching ability and Claiborne’s adaptability.

Certainly Claiborne has the tools to succeed. He was a former sprint champion at Shreveport’s Fair Park High School and could replace Peterson as LSU’s kick returner given that Claiborne returned two for a combined 57 yards last season.

What’s more, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis knows Claiborne well, and that’s what matters most. Chavis has the experience to utilize Claiborne in the manner where he’ll be most effective. Claiborne, in turn, has the savvy to patrol the field just as effectively whether by air or on the ground.

Against Ole Miss last season, Claiborne recorded a team-high eight tackles, including one for a loss. In addition to intercepting a pass against McNeese State and breaking up three more, Claiborne registered a tackle.

It’s not Claiborne’s sole purpose to make a name for himself this season, but in doing his duty, that will be the end result.

Thus, no one should be surprised when awards come Claiborne’s way for a job well done.

Tyrann Mathieu