Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
OXNARD, Calif. -- Morris Claiborne carries with him a first-round pedigree. By the end of this season he will have earned $16.26 million since the Dallas Cowboys took him with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 draft.
As Claiborne prepares for his first padded practice since tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee today in Oxnard, California, he is carrying with him the attitude of a player without that pedigree.
“I’m trying to make the team,” Claiborne said. “That’s how I look at this whole thing. I’m trying to make this team. That I can play football, period, point blank.”
That Claiborne is in this position is surprising. When the Cowboys moved up to select him in the draft, they gave him the highest grade for a cornerback since Deion Sanders. He was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner in 2011 at LSU. Some thought he would be like Patrick Peterson, his former LSU teammate, who has excelled with the Arizona Cardinals.
In three seasons, Claiborne has three interceptions.
He has yet to make it through a training camp healthy in his career. Injuries have cost him 19 games in three seasons. Last year’s injury was by far the worst, especially for the position he plays.
At one point in the offseason he was down to 150 pounds in his rehab. He needed to learn to walk and run all over again. As the Cowboys practiced in the spring, Claiborne kept mostly to the side doing rehab and some individual drills.
His goal all along has been to make it on the field for the start of training camp.
“I feel great,” Claiborne said. “I feel like I’m where I need to be right now. Nothing but getting better from here. I’m continuing to work how I’m working. I’ll let God take care of the rest. Being through, going through it once, you know how to handle it. In this situation, it’s a first time for me to miss a whole lot. I just knew that work would take care of everything and leave the rest up to God.”
The challenges he overcame in rehab don’t end now that he can practice. He said there are mental and physical challenges that he will have to clear. He still has to trust the knee will hold up, trust that his athletic ability is still there and trust he can still compete.
The Cowboys have publicly backed Claiborne throughout the offseason. Coach Jason Garrett said Claiborne has been one of the most dedicated players he has seen in rehab. But the club did not pick up his fifth-year option for 2016, which will make him a free agent when the season ends, and they drafted cornerback Byron Jones in the first round.
Claiborne claims there is not more motivation because of those moves, even if he said his goal is to make the team.
“I didn’t really feel that way my first year here,” Claiborne said. “I felt like I was done doing everything. But a couple of injuries have knocked me back a little bit. That’s my mindset now. What if I push myself too hard? I don’t see no reason to scale back now. Just keep grinding. I’m just going to work, keep working and leave the rest up to God. I can look back and say I did everything in my power.”
He has one more year to live up to expectations.
“There’s always time when you’re out there,” he said.