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Dallas Cowboys Rookies: Catching Up With Morris Claiborne

Morris, just keep on smiling because you may be a superstar in the making.
Morris, just keep on smiling because you may be a superstar in the making.

We still haven't seen our first-round draft pick in live football action yet. Morris Claiborne has been maintaining a low profile so far and he was unable to work out in any of the OTAs or mini-camp that the Cowboys held a few weeks ago. What Claiborne did do was get on the field, with a helmet, and he took "mental reps" instead of not doing anything at all.

His actions tell me that this is a young man who wants to practice and work hard. Not every young player wants to be out there in the hot weather taking part in practices, especially when they don't have to. When I see a young player like Claiborne out there basically begging to get back onto the field, that shows me that he has the right type of approach towards the game of football.

Claiborne attended the NFL Rookie Symposium this week. Claiborne also got to hang out and offer some young kids advice in a "Play 60" event that is being promoted by the NFL.

"I was just telling them to keep going no matter how tired you are," said Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. "When they got to our session, they were tired -- so we were just trying to pump them up and keep them going."

Claiborne also got to listen to some of the special guest speakers brought in for the event. Michael Irvin, Adam Jones, Terrell Owens and Michael Vick. What speaker really caught Claiborne's attention? That would be none other than division rival Michael Vick.

"One of the speakers that really got to me was Michael Vick," Claiborne said. "Hearing his story -- you hear it all the time on TV and you see the shows -- but seeing him actually tell his story in person really got to me. It just goes to show you, at any moment, it can be taken away from you."

Okay, maybe our new franchise cornerback shouldn't be so smitten by Vick, but at least Claiborne is listening to what Vick went through and learns that mistakes like that can ruin your life. Morris is right, anything can be taken away from you, so you must make the right decisions. Claiborne seems like a very nice young man, and right now I am not worried about him getting into any trouble. This is someone who wants to come to work, and work hard. His character will never be a question with me.

Morris also learned about the ongoing concussion issues that has been big news recently.

Morris Claiborne found the session informative and helpful. While most players don't consider head injuries on the field, Claiborne said any outside discussion on potential long-term effects of head injuries are sobering.

"You think about it when you're sitting in here," Claiborne said afterward outside one of the conference rooms at The Bertram Hotel. "Being a football player, once you're on the field, you don't think about getting concussions or stuff like that. It's very important."

"It could be the difference between life or death. If you feel symptoms or those kind of things, you need to tell someone."

This is really starting to become a big issue now and that is a good thing. Players need to be lectured and taught that you cannot ignore these type of head injuries. Player safety is probably at the highest it has ever been in the history of the NFL. The league needs to continue researching the long-term effects of how football relates to those type of injuries, but they also need to teach the players about protecting themselves and allow them to get help early instead of later.

Claiborne has a two-year old son, so he has a family to think about, not just himself anymore. Claiborne touched on the concussion issue some more and discussed that he would get checked up as a precaution.

Claiborne said he's never been faced with the dilemma of whether to cover up an injury. But he won't take any chances if he's ever confronted in the future.

"I really haven't been in that situation," said Claiborne, who has a 2-year-old son. "I know if I ever were, I would let someone know. You want to play and you want to get back in there, but if you get in there and you take another hit you might never play again. It's important to let someone know and check you out."

There were a lot of negative comments about Claiborne's mental capacity after the results of his Wonderlic test went public. In the past two months I have read and listened to everything that Claiborne has said to the media since becoming a Dallas Cowboy. In all of those interviews and quotes from Claiborne, I never got the vibe that he was anything less than a normal guy. I think we got ourselves a fantastic athlete who has the skill set to be one of the best players in the NFL, but we also got someone who is the "RKG".

Just look at what Jason Garrett had to say about Claiborne a few weeks ago.

"He’s clearly a guy who has a good understanding of football," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We use the expression ‘football IQ.’ Everything we heard from the people at LSU who were around him for three years said he was very natural that way. We’ve given him a lot of stuff. It’s particularly difficult for him because he is hearing the stuff, but he not getting to do it. But he’s handling it well. We’ll see when he gets out there practicing, when the bullets are really flying, how well he handles it. But he hangs in there mentally, and I think that has a lot to do with just his understanding of the game. That’s football IQ."

Secondary coach Jerome Henderson had plenty to say about Claiborne in the same article from the Star Telegram.

"The tape tells me he’s smart and plays with awareness," Henderson said after a minicamp practice Wednesday at Valley Ranch. "When I look at tape of the young man, everything about it says, ‘Wow, this guy is really smart. A smart football player. Understands the concepts. Understands his fit within those concepts."

"He’s got to work harder in the classroom to put himself in those situations where he has to think fast and put pressure on himself," Henderson said. "I’ve got to do that with him in the meetings, put pressure on him to think fast, create pressure. Because to me, that’s the difference between great players and average players, how they handle stress and pressure. When it’s easy and slowed down, everybody can go out there and function. But when it speeds up and I’m a little tense, a lot of things are going on, how does he handle the situation?"

"And again, from what I’ve seen of the young man, I think he’ll be good in those situations. But I try to create them for him as much as possible."

If Claiborne becomes a student of the game and works hard in the film room, it will pay off in the long run for him. I keep harping on the importance of being a "film rat", but look at a player like Sean Lee. He would be a great player without all the film room work he puts in, but he is one of the first players at the building and one of the last to leave. Lee improves his understanding of the game, offense and defense by spending hours in the film room. Claiborne would be wise to spend a lot of time in that room because it will only enhance his athletic ability and make him an even more dangerous cornerback in the NFL.

There is an article on that made my day. Claiborne took part in an interview on the NFL Network and talks about some of the leaders on the team. He said the obvious names, but he did drop a name that may surprise you.

"We have a lot of leaders on our team right now," he said. "DeMarcus Ware, (Tony) Romo, you even hit Dez (Bryant) up being a leader. All those guys are leaders and all those guys are trying to help us win a championship."

Dez Bryant is my favorite player, so I was very proud to hear that Dez is beginning to take the steps he must take in order to become a superstar player. Ever since Dez was a rookie, I suggested that he had leadership qualities in him because of his passion for the game. He loves his teammates and he loves the game of football, but there is nothing he wouldn't do in order to win. Dez is constantly trying to pump up his teammates on the sideline and is a very vocal player. That is the type of passion and emotion we need to see from more of our players.

I love this kid already, but every time I see him I come away even more impressed with the type of person he is. I have a great feeling that Claiborne may be a budding superstar cornerback just waiting to take the field, hopefully he lives up to my expectations for him.

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