By Michael Felder
Two nights ago was the premier of Fear Factor and if you all did not realize this is a show that I absolutely love and two nights ago only served to rekindle my romance with the series. No such rekindling is needed for television in general, I absolutely love that stuff all day err'day.
Two other things I absolutely love are the Wu-Tang Clan and defensive back play. I love, love, love them both and have for about equally as long of a time. Pre-1997 I'd really just "enjoyed" both the Wu and DBs, I was only like 12 or 13 and I really was still finding me way as a young, adolescent bro in Charlotte. Then 1997 hit; "Triumph" and Charles Woodson baby! I was sold. For serious, those two things put me over the top. Triumph made me decide that the Wu family was going to be where my rap allegiance would reside and Charles Woodson sold me on being a baller ass defensive back when I got to high school in two years.
For the record, I had to play defensive end and tight end in middle school because 5'10"-ish 145 lbs at 11-12 is apparently not small and my "hand in the dirt" services were required.
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So it is due to this love of both, the Killer Beez and the DBs, that I found myself sitting around last night listening to Tical while watching LSU defensive clips. Play after play being made by Tyrann Mathieu and each play being matched by Morris Claiborne. I'm watching some great defensive back play, I've got some legit tunes going and then I had an epiphany...
Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are Meth vs Chef. These two outstanding defensive backs are basically Method Man and Raekwon both on the track and in their general persona as well. One is a front man, popular guy with a wide array of skills and the charisma to carry it all. The other is a guy who is sharp in his craft, focused and absolutely one of the best at what he does, even if a lot of laypeople couldn't pick him out of a lineup.
When you think about individuals out of the Wu-Tang Clan that went big in the mainstream the answer really begins and ends with one man; Clifford Smith aka Method Man. He's the guy most folks know. He's the guy who blew up with "Bring The Pain" and "You're All I Need" off of his debut album. He's the guy that hams it up on the mic with Redman to make the platinum selling "Blackout!" album. Meth is the dude that's been on Oz, The Wire, CSI, Law & Order: SVU, Burn Notice. He's played bit parts in movies like Cop Land, Garden State and Belly plus he does have his own movie "How High" where he teams with Redman again.
On the other side of this you've got Corey Woods aka Raekwon the Chef. Not as easily recognizable, not the same success from a record or radio standpoint as his counterpart Method Man. However, this is the dude that dropped one of raps best albumbs of all time: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. No massive filmography, no platinum records but what he does have are two of the genres best records of all time, period. No frills, no act, no grandstanding folks; the dude is just a real MC who goes out, does his job and goes home.
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Enter Mathieu and Claiborne to the equation. Mathieu as the front man Method Man and Mo Claiborne as the technical genius Raekwon.
Tyrann Mathieu is the jack of all trades on the field for the Bayou Bengals. While Method Man has solo projects, Wu-Tang efforts, television and film, the Honey Badger has forced fumbles, punt returns, blitzes, sacks and tackles for loss in his repetoire. He shows up all over the stat sheet much like Meth shows up on the entertainment radar.
In Morris Claiborne you've got the technician. A guy that is without a doubt the best NFL draft prospect on this roster because of his ability to excel at what his job is; playing cornerback. There are long stretches of game where you don't hear Mo's name but then when the quarterback decides to show some stones and throw it in his direction, there's #17 putting together a classic. Raekwon's got classic albums; Mo Claiborne's got exceptional defensive play whenever his number gets called.
You see Tyrann Mathieu, for all of his skills, is not a technician so much as he is a football player. The sophomore is the type of kid who soaked up every teaching that coaches offered, threw in some amazing instincts and a willingness to gamble then took it and ran with it. He is not what I'd call "technically sound" at the cornerback position, quite honestly his skillset is better suited to play safety but his body did not cooperate when it decided to stop growing at 5'9" and a soaking wet 180 lbs.
To be fair though the kid does have exceptional skills. He's not slow, as evidenced by his outsprinting tacklers on punt returns, but he does not have the deliberate motions in his footwork that you'd like out of a top flight cornerback. Sometimes he opens his hips a bit too much. Sometimes he rounds off breaks. Sometimes he misjudges balls and angles.
If that was all to the kid Tharold Simon, the 6'3" third corner, would probably be on the field a lot more. But, that's not all that's to him. The small in stature sophomore is huge in other areas that make his presence on the field a must because while the technical aspects of playing cornerback are not yet something that he owns, the "defensive" part of being a cornerback is something he has mastered.
He tackles so well. Head across. Shoots his guns. Runs his feet. The kid packs a wallop and drops ball carriers that he gets a shot on. He has the ridiculous presence of mind to get the ball out in a way most defenders never dream of. His ability to blitz is so much more than just running wildly at the quarterback. Look at his angles, his timing and his approach to the quarterback. In the blitz game and getting to the quarterback he's a lot more rush linebacker than he is a corner coming on a weakside cowboy.
Oh and vision. You can't teach vision. You either have it or you don't.
Now we get to Claiborne the Raekwon of this example, your favorite rappers favorite rapper. Watching this guy play, a year removed from being awed by the footwork wizardry of Patrick Peterson, is like seeing PP7's twin. One-stepper out of breaks, sits in the hip pocket of the receiver, pulls himself into the break with a subtle grab like you're supposed to do and has tremendous ball skills when pigskin goes up in the air.
Most importantly he has the one quality every single great corner has; the "I dare you." It is more than fearlessness. It is more than confidence. It is the legitimate feeling that "I wish the quarterback would" approach to covering receivers down. He's the boxer that's daring his opponent to hit him. He's the quick draw gun fighter that's waiting on his foe to reach for the revolver. Claiborne baits quarterbacks throwing his way just to get a shot at making a big play for LSU. Claiborne stares menacingly at quarterbacks and receivers who had the audacity to believe they could actually get one in on him.
The beauty of it all is, that like Meth and Chef, these two work so well together. Go to one side and you've got the ultimate defensive playmaker. Go to the other and you've got the nation's best cornerback. They're a dynamic duo, if this was basketball they'd be the neighborhood's two man team that beat the heck out of you on the adjustable goal in the driveway. Claiborne, steady Eddie with the jumpshot and Mathieu the Tasmanian devil causing problems of all sorts on the pavement.
As Method Man and Raekwon are part of something larger so too are Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. Great as individuals, they raise the bar when they get to work with the entire crew because LSU's defense, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, ain't nothing to...well you know.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.