ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Defensive backs coach Dave Merritt surveyed the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice from deep in the secondary during seven-on-seven work early Monday as training camp resumed at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Normally, that would be solitary duty, but on this day he wasn’t alone.
Newly acquired veteran cornerback Morris Claiborne was attached to Merritt at the hip during his first practice since signing an incentive-laden one-year deal.
“I’m just learning the defense,” Claiborne said. “I started yesterday, meeting with the coaches and I had my playbook over the weekend, so I was able to read some of the terminology and stuff like that.”
The extra time and attention from the Chiefs’ coaching staff is meant to flatten out Claiborne’s learning curve, which is steep after missing the first three weeks of training camp.
“We’ve got to ease him into this thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He hasn’t played any in the off-season and he’s coming off an injury... so we’re just going to ease him in, see how he does and get a feel for where he’s at.”
Cornerback is a major position of need for the Chiefs, who signed veteran Bashaud Breeland and drafted Rashad Fenton in the sixth round but did little else to address one of the most glaring weaknesses from an historically bad defense during the offseason.
Unfortunately, if Claiborne is going to provide a boost for the Chiefs’ rebuilt defense, it won’t be until late September. The NFL suspended him four games in early August for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Claiborne acknowledged the situation — and the bind it put him, teams and his agents in — during his first public comments since signing with the Chiefs.
“I put all of us in a tough situation,” he said. “I own up to everything I do. I’m a grown man. I can’t do anything about that situation. I’m sorry it happened, but I can't do anything about it. I can only move on right now.”
The suspension probably explains why Claiborne, who missed the final game last season with a shoulder injury, sat on the market for so long. After all, he is a former No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft who had career-highs for tackles (57), interceptions (two) and passes defended (14) last season with the New York Jets.
“He’s played in this league for a few years now and he’s a good, solid player,” Reid said. “You can’t have enough of those guys, especially at that position. We’ll just get him into the mix and see how he does... I’ve competed against him and I thought he was a good player. Brett studied him like crazy and felt good about him. So, we went with it.”
Claiborne spent five injury plagued seasons with the Dallas Cowboys after starring collegiately alongside Tyrann Mathieu at LSU.
Mathieu helped recruit Claiborne, who said he fielded offers from several teams in recent weeks, to Kansas City.
The chance to compete for a Super Bowl also was attractive for Claiborne.
“This just seemed like it fit more and I could tell, from the coaching staff to the owner, they really wanted me,” he said. “I could feel it; I could feel the energy from them, and I know they have a great team. I know we’re going to be playing in the playoffs, and our goal is to win that Super Bowl.”
Claiborne will be eligible to return for an AFC Divisional rematch Oct. 6 against Indianapolis, Sunday Night Football contest on 41 Action News.
“Once I learn this defense and just come in and take over, that’s my mindset,” Claiborne said. “Just come in and play. I don’t feel like I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain in this situation. I feel like I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Reid said he doesn’t plan to play Claiborne in Saturday’s preseason game at Pittsburgh.
“I wouldn’t imagine that,” Reid said. “You’ve got to give him a fair shot here to get ready.”