OXNARD, Calif. — Morris Claiborne got on Terrance Williams’ nerves the minute the competition started at training camp for the Dallas Cowboys.
The third-year cornerback pulled and grabbed the receiver aggressively enough to prompt a heated, facemask-to-facemask exchange that ended with a shove.
Claiborne had already told reporters he was ready to prove he was worthy of Dallas’ dramatic move up the draft board to get him with the sixth overall pick in 2012. He didn’t waste any time showing some urgency.
“I’m not accepting anything less than great from myself,” Claiborne, a former LSU standout, said Friday, a day before his tussle with Williams. “That’s how I’m approaching my workouts. There ain’t nothing else to do. I might as well be the best I can be.”
Here’s the problem for Claiborne; He hasn’t shown much playmaking ability when he’s been healthy, with just one interception in each of his two years. And there have already been moments in this camp when he looked overmatched trying to cover Dez Bryant.
Claiborne isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot despite his lofty draft status, with Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr also in that mix. The Cowboys were off on Monday.
The 24-year-old Claiborne has reason for optimism. He participated in most of the offseason program despite surgeries on his left shoulder and a finger. He’s had time to digest an emotional end of last season, when his father died and his daughter was born just days apart.
“Felt like the world is on your back so to speak,” Claiborne said. “You feel like you’re hitting rock bottom. And you feel like you have nowhere else to go and you have to turn it around.”
Jerry Jones gave up a second-round pick to move up eight spots for a more expensive contract than if the Dallas owner had stayed in the middle of the first round.
Jones liked seeing the feisty side of Claiborne in the first practice with pads and thought the cornerback taught himself a lesson by using too much energy early in the session. Jones also sees a bright side of Claiborne getting burned by Bryant.
“I don’t need to really remind him or anyone the commitment we made and the commitment he made,” Jones said. “If he can get out here and ... have good things happen, get tired, have things go against him a couple of plays. If he can work through that, he’ll be an improved player and be the guy we want to have out there.”
Jason Garrett said Claiborne’s display with Williams was another sign of a player he thinks is growing stronger and more confident — a couple of factors that the coach says may have slowed Claiborne’s development coming out of LSU.
“I think his demeanor is better than it’s been,” Garrett said. “He’s certainly becoming more and more mature, and I think his approach to playing the game ... is just getting better and better and better.”
Carr has missed all of training camp to spend time with his ailing mother, and there’s no indication when he will return. Carr’s absence makes it more difficult to assess where Claiborne stands, but secondary coach Jerome Henderson figures it doesn’t matter because he says all three will be on the field a lot.
“My sense of where he is right now is his head is down and he’s working his butt off,” Henderson said. “He’s just decided that I’m going to go work and work and work and just let my play be what it is.”
Claiborne, keenly aware of the criticism that he’s on the verge of being declared a draft bust, echoed Henderson’s words in several of his answers.
“I want to stand out. I’ll put it like that,” Claiborne said. “Whatever I have to do to stand myself aside, I’m willing to do that.”
Claiborne’s battle with Williams certainly stood out on the first day of competitive practice.