OXNARD, Calif. – It’s old news by now that Morris Claiborne is playing well at training camp.
After six full practices, no one on the Cowboys’ roster ranks higher than Claiborne in terms of on-field production, not to mention day-to-day consistency so far this summer. The fifth-year corner might be pleased to hear that, but he was sure to also downplay it.
“It’s been solid,” he said. “It’s a long way from where I want to be right now, and I’m just continuing to work every day – come out here and try to be better than I was the day before.”
Claiborne was again solid on Sunday, as he continues to build toward the start of the season. But what stood out during Sunday’s Blue-White Scrimmage, moreso than any actual gameplay, was his unbridled enthusiasm for the game – even from the safety of the sidelines.
When the second-team defense was playing in the red zone, there was Claiborne – cheering them on and offering pep talks. When the backups allowed a completion, he was quick to consult with fellow veteran Orlando Scandrick about what went wrong – was there a miscommunication, or had the technique been wrong?
And, of course, when his understudies made a play on the ball, Claiborne was the first to rush the field in celebration for his young teammates.
“I’m enjoying it, man. I’m just excited about it,” he said.
For a guy who’s had as tough a go of it as Claiborne, it was a welcome sight. And if you’ve followed his story since he was drafted more than four years ago, it’s obvious that it hasn’t always been the case.
“It’s like I was telling Sean Lee earlier today – it’s been a while since I’ve actually loved football the way I love it right now, and I’m just so excited about it,” Claiborne said. “I get so excited for the young guys that’s out there, because I want those guys to do well. When they make plays, it puts something inside of me.”
That’s an encouraging statement from a guy who has had so many ups and downs in such a brief amount of time. Claiborne’s story feels beaten into the ground at this point, but for the sake of reminder: since the Cowboys traded up to draft him No. 6 overall in 2012, Claiborne has appeared in just 40 of 66 possible games, logging a total of just three interceptions.
Injuries have plagued him throughout his career – most notably, when he missed the team’s 2014 playoff run with a torn patellar tendon.
Claiborne bounced back in time to produce one of his better – and arguably his healthiest – seasons to date in 2015. He was good enough and reliable enough to earn a one-year, $3 million contract to remain with the team.
With all of that in mind, it’s not surprising to hear that Claiborne’s re-discovered energy coincides perfectly with what has been the healthiest stretch of his career. Unlike past years, where he has had to work with athletic trainers on rehab and conditioning, Claiborne is in the thick of things – and loving it.
“I’d definitely say it’s because I’m healthy enough to go out and do it,” he said. “Healthy enough to be out on the field with my teammates and not in the training room or not standing on the sideline watching. I’m with them every step of the day right now.”
That isn’t lost on the Cowboys’ coaches, as they’ve watched him throughout the offseason program and into the early portion of training camp. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he thinks Claiborne’s setbacks will help him develop as a player and a person.
“Mo’s handled a lot of different injuries over the course of his career, a lot of different adversities,” Garrett said. “For me and for our staff he’s kind of come out the other end of it in a real positive way. I think he’s benefitting and grown from the experiences that he’s had.”
It’s still just one step out of many. Camp goes on for several more weeks, including preseason games. After that comes the grind of the regular season, where Claiborne has never managed to put together a full 16-game campaign.
For the time being, though, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.