Morris Claiborne stayed after all but one other teammate Wednesday morning at practice, signing autographs and posing for pictures with training camp volunteers.
The Dallas Cowboys cornerback endeared himself to the few hundred fans, who called him by name. But Claiborne knows he can win over even more with a solid season.
“Just going out and being me,” he said. “Just going out playing football. Leaving it all on the field. I feel like I’ve worked hard enough to be in this position. I’m just going to leave the rest up to God and just go play football.”
The 2012 first-round draft pick became even more important to the Cowboys on Tuesday when they lost starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the season. Scandrick flew home Wednesday and will undergo surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
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Claiborne has been there, rehabbed that.
He tore the patellar tendon in his left knee against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4 last season. Claiborne also underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
It took months and months of rehab that Claiborne said felt like “two years.” At times, he questioned whether he would make it back.
That nightmare came flooding back to him when he saw Scandrick writhing on the ground, grabbing his knee.
“As he was laying there, just the look on his face,” Claiborne said. “The way he was squeezing hands, it brought back a lot of memories for me. I know what he’s going through, and it’s a tough deal.”
It’s “next-man-up” for the Cowboys, who will use second-year player Tyler Patmon in the slot and Claiborne on the right side in Scandrick’s absence.
“Great player, probably the best slot player in the league,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said of Scandrick, “so obviously, he’ll be missed. But somebody has got to step up now. We’ve got some men in there who can step up, and we’re counting on them.”
The Cowboys have waited on Claiborne for four years now. Injuries have slowed the development of the sixth overall pick as he has missed 19 games with three injuries. With only three interceptions and 18 pass breakups, Claiborne also has yet to show the skill set that won him the Jim Thorpe Award at LSU.
“I feel like I’m way overdue,” he said. “With injuries and all that type of stuff, I feel like that’s behind me.”
Claiborne, 25, enters the final year of his contract. The Cowboys declined to pick up the fifth-year option in the off-season and then used a first-round choice on cornerback Byron Jones in May.
Thus, Claiborne knows his days in Dallas could be numbered.
“I try not to think about it at all, but it’s kind of hard, being this is my job,” he said. “This is what I do. I play football. It’s kind of hard not to think about being great at what you do. It crossed my mind, but I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work this off-season and still working now to be the best I can be to go out and play my role on this team, and help this team win football games.”
The Cowboys insist they have confidence in Claiborne, who expects to make his preseason debut Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings. But does Claiborne still have confidence in himself?
“He’s having a heck of a training camp, playing solid,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “I think he feels confident about where he is, about his body, about the way he’s playing.
“We’ve just got to keep him on the field, keep him progressing. … I think with that, his confidence is just going to continue to grow.”