Cowboys cornerback Claiborne takes his lumps in rookie season

IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys' top pick, Morris Claiborne, is no dummy -- never mind the reported score of 4 he made on the Wonderlic Test before the NFL Draft.

After having the worst game of his life in Sunday's 38-23 victory against Philadelphia, the rookie cornerback knows the No. 24 on his jersey might as well be a target.

Claiborne was penalized five times. He was flagged twice for being offside -- which is mind-boggling for a cornerback lined up that far from the ball. He was flagged twice for defensive holding and once for pass interference. He also gave up a touchdown pass.

The sixth overall pick from LSU was already being targeted by opposing offenses because of his inexperience, but now they smell blood.

Typical of Claiborne, who deadpanned after the draft that he blew off the Wonderlic because it had nothing to do with football, not only does he expect to be quite busy against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, he welcomes the action because it gives him more opportunities to make plays.

"I hope so," Claiborne said Wednesday. "I feel it's a blessing for me. We got out of there with a win with all the things that were happening and next week guys are going to come out and I know they are going to say: 'Just throw it over there -- either we are going to catch it or get a penalty.' I've got to make the best of the situation. Seize the moment and go make a play."

While the Cowboys aren't happy with Claiborne's play against the Eagles, they are pleased and impressed with his attitude -- during the game Sunday and in the days since.

He never lost confidence and never backed down, which is partly why he kept piling up those penalties.

And he never got down after the game or this week in practice. His ability to move on has impressed the Cowboys -- having a short memory and a positive outlook is crucial to any long-term success at cornerback.

"He has been impressive," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was impressive throughout that ballgame. A lot of bad things happened to him in that game. But he kept battling. That is one of the things everybody at LSU told us about him. That is a very difficult position to play. You are not going to have success every time. Your mental toughness is critical. They are going to complete balls on you. You got to keep coming back. I thought he did a good job trying to battle in the game."

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr echoed Garrett and said he had no concerns about Claiborne. Carr talked to the rookie after the game and was impressed by how he handled his disappointing day.

"He's a battler. He's not going to let down," Carr said. "I know he's going to work to tighten up some things, but we're still going to get after it on the island, and we're going to challenge guys each week. I told him, 'You're going to have those days where things aren't going your way or you just feel like everybody's against you. But you're going to have other days when you're out there shutting guys down.' He just needs to continue to have that aggressive nature, that aggressive attitude, because it's going to pay off in the future."

The most disappointing and frustrating thing about Claiborne's game against the Eagles is that it was a setback of sorts since he had steadily been improving. According to Stats Inc., he has been targeted 39 times, giving up 24 receptions for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Teams are completing 61.5 percent of their passes against him, and he is ninth in the league in touchdowns allowed.

Claiborne said he is going to use the game as a learning tool and will make adjustments to his technique after watching the film.

"I'm going to keep playing football," Claiborne said. "I've just got to correct a couple of things. When I looked at the film, I felt I was in good position; I shouldn't have grabbed. I need to rely on my ability to run with receivers. Once you start down the field, you run with the receiver. Instead of feeling with your hands, feel him with your body."

Claiborne said he has already forgotten last week's game. His focus will solely be on making plays so everyone else will forget it, too.

Claiborne is tied for the team lead with six pass deflections and one interception.

"I'm always trying to look at the positive," Claiborne said. "How can I make a play to help people forget it because I have forgotten it? Once you start making plays, all that is erased. I'm not making any predictions, but if the opportunity presents itself, I'm going to go get them."

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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