IRVING, Texas – A day after missing practice with a migraine, Morris Claiborne had to deal with a wide receiver that will probably be causing cornerbacks headaches for the foreseeable future.
Dez Bryant made several catches with Claiborne defending him during Wednesday’s minicamp at Valley Ranch. Of course, neither player was wearing pads, so the physical nature was limited.
When the sixth overall draft pick tried to get physical near the end of team drills, he was flagged for pass interference.
“Those are good,” Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson said of Claiborne’s battles with Bryant. “Those are going to pay dividends during the season.”
Claiborne, who started 15 games during his rookie year, has bulked up in the offseason, gaining six pounds of muscle in preparation for similar battles with bigger, physical receivers.
“I think he’s fine there,” Henderson said. “I think Dez is a special guy. I don’t know if you’re physical enough with Dez, I don’t care who you are. You see him run over linebackers in this league.”
Claiborne wasn’t in the locker room on Wednesday to discuss his reps going against Bryant, but the Cowboys’ top offensive playmaker was available to give his take.
“He’s real tough and that’s what I love,” Bryant said. “I feel like he’s adding an element to his game and that’s being more physical. He’s already got the eye for the ball. He has hands like a receiver. He’s just putting pieces together to be one of the best in the league.”
Wearing a cast on his surgically-repaired left wrist until late May, Claiborne didn’t get an opportunity to add much upper-body strength heading into his rookie season. And because of rehab work, he didn’t become a full participant until training camp.
During a rookie year that included one interception, a returned fumble for a touchdown, eight pass deflections and 55 total tackles, Claiborne, who missed one start because of a concussion, was far from satisfied. Two weeks ago, the LSU product gave his rookie season a C-minus grade, adding he expected to see “a great big jump” during his second year in the NFL.
One of Claiborne’s newest teammates hasn’t been around long, but he can already see the potential in the 23-year-old.
“He’s going to be one of the best in the league, by far,” veteran safety Will Allen said. “His athletic ability is through the roof.”
So what are the Cowboys coaches expecting from Claiborne in Year Two?
“We expect a lot,” Henderson said. “Any time you have a rookie who comes in and plays right away, you know you have a player that’s going to be a really good player in the future.
“And we expect him to take the next step. We expect him to take the step from a starter to, now, really a big-time impact player.”