Gil LeBreton

Cowboys CB Claiborne rising from ‘rock bottom’

Mo Claiborne heard what you said. And he read what we wrote.

It wasn’t the kind of stuff that a Dallas Cowboys first-round draft choice clips and sends home to mama.

“It was all kinds of stuff,” the third-year cornerback recalled. “Family problems, being injured last year, not being able to play, having it feel like the world is on your back and you don’t have anywhere to go.

“When you feel like you’re hitting rock bottom and with nowhere else to go, you have to turn it around.”

Rock bottom, he called it. At age 24, two years after he was selected No. 6 overall in the NFL draft and signed a $16.4 million contract, the former LSU All-American felt he had failed everyone.

The sixth player taken in the draft is supposed to a perennial All-Pro, not a backup to Orlando Scandrick.

Rock bottom?

“Definitely,” Claiborne repeated. “Besides having you guys on my back, the fans on my back, coaches, and all the outside stuff, it was a lot.

“But from all that, I feel like I’m a better man.”

His boss, to name one, helped to drive that first nail on Mo’s doghouse. After Owner Jones engineered the 2012 trade that sent first- and second-round picks to the Rams to move up to select Claiborne, someone let slip that Mo was the second-highest player on the Cowboys’ draft board. Jerry made it worse by comparing Claiborne to Deion Sanders.

Claiborne was injured when he arrived at his first training camp. He’s had a knee injury, a hamstring injury and last season a dislocated shoulder that required surgery.

Then, in December 2013, Mo sent this message via Twitter:

“Man, God be working. Took my daddy on Wednesday and gave me a beautiful little girl on Monday.”

Forced in the off-season to rehab the shoulder at Valley Ranch, Claiborne found a resolve and a new work ethic.

“This is no time to be running around feeling sad for yourself,” he said. “You have to live every moment like it’s your last. I came out here early because I was excited. I’m excited to be out here. I’m excited for the season.

“Being on the field and getting those reps is really important,” he said. “I found that out the hard way.”

LSU fans, in particular, didn’t understand. This Claiborne they saw in a Dallas uniform didn’t look like the same Mo who stuck to college pass receivers like a shadow and hungered for the football.

He needs to be playing man-to-man, not a zone pass defense. That, as much as anything, could help Claiborne, finally healthy, become the player the Cowboys thought they drafted.

“I can’t say it’s just one specific thing that I want to do,” Claiborne said. “I want to be great. I want to be that tackling corner. I want to be that cover corner. I want to be that corner that goes up and gets the ball when it’s in the air. I want to be the all-around player.

“I feel like I have to focus on it all.”

Head coach Jason Garrett saw the difference in Claiborne’s confidence on the Cowboys’ first afternoon in pads at this camp. Claiborne and second-year receiver Terrance Williams sparred and jawed at each other, with mostly Mo being the aggressor.

“He was one of the best participants in our off-season program,” Garrett said. “He got stronger. He’s certainly becoming more and more mature, and I think his approach to playing the game, the physical part and the competitiveness, are just getting better and better and better.

“He’s just a more confident guy, a guy who’s playing more decisively.”

When his father, Robert Owens, passed away last December, Claiborne’s mother took the bracelet off Robert’s arm and presented it to Mo. It’s not coming off, Mo said, even during games.

Is this a make-or-break season for Mo Claiborne?

“I feel like every year is a critical year,” he answered. “But being that I didn’t have that so-called glamorous year everybody wanted last year, it would be a big steppingstone for me this year to step up to that plate and answer that challenge.”

From rock bottom to steppingstone. That would be a start, if nothing else.

Mo Claiborne heard what you said and read what we wrote. He’s a better man now, he says. Watch.