Growing up as a Dallas Cowboys fan in Shreveport, La., dreams of the beginning of a professional career surely didn't have Claiborne kneeling on the side of the field during his team's first practice, his wrist wrapped in a cast.
But that's exactly the way his first NFL practice went Friday morning. The cornerback from LSU, who won the Jim Thorpe Award (given annually to the nation's top defensive back) and convinced the Cowboys to trade up for the right to draft him, spent his first two practices on the side of the field, listening to coaches and watching his teammates go through drills without him. Claiborne injured his left wrist in November, and after playing through the rest of the season with the injury, had surgery to repair it, delaying the start of his on-field education.
Claiborne said he was "itching" to get out on the field with his teammates Friday, but knows he has to wait until his wrist is fully healed before he can begin practicing. He said he expects to have pins removed next week from the wrist, and after rehabilitating the wrist, he hopes to be ready to take to the field in time for training camp.
In the meantime, he must observe from the sideline and learn. Claiborne said he and several teammates already received their playbooks, and until his wrist allows him to take the field, his learning will have to come through studying and watching. He said that while experience can not be replaced, it is possible to learn without taking part in drills.
"I have pretty much picked (the Cowboys' defensive system) up," Claiborne said. "LSU uses pretty much the same defense. The terminology is different, but a lot of the schemes are the same."
"Football is pretty much football anywhere you are, but on this level it's a lot faster. A lot more goes into it. I pretty much picked up on it, on everything, where everybody is supposed to be, where I'm supposed to be. It came pretty easy to me."
Before the draft, defensive backs are rated on a number of skills, one of which is a player's ability to backpedal … a skill Claiborne put on display when he was asked his first uncomfortable question of the day.
"Do you plan to come in and start right away?"
"I expect to go in and give my all every day," Claiborne said. "I'm going to work hard rehabbing my wrist and I'm going to study my playbook. A lot of the guys already got our playbooks yesterday, and they were walking the halls, looking at that book. We have got a lot to learn."
Aware that despite his lofty draft status, he is like the other rookies who are just beginning to learn a new system, Claiborne said he feels confident he can pick up a lot while watching the team practice without him as his wrist heals. He also is getting a grasp for what is expected of him by his new boss, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"He knows what he wants to get done," Claiborne said. "He wants to get the work in and do what we have to do to have a successful defense."
Claiborne knows that the best way to impress Ryan is to learn as much as possible, even while he is restricted to the sideline by the team's medical staff.
"I don't want to be left behind," he said. "When it's really time for camp and everybody's here, I don't want to feel like I have lost a step. I can't get out there (on the practice field) and do it, but I was taking mental reps."
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