- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Kneejerk reaction after one rookie camp practice: Don’t expect to see first-round pick Morris Claiborne returning punts for the Cowboys.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones is wishy-washy on whether it’s worth risking Dez Bryant on punt returns, and Bryant was one of the nation’s premier return specialists at Oklahoma State. Claiborne never returned a punt for LSU, which had Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu filling highlight reels in those roles.
Claiborne got some work as a punt returner Wednesday during his first practice with the Cowboys, splitting the reps with undrafted receiver Cole Beasley. To put it kindly, it was quite an adventure for Claiborne, who whiffed on a couple of punts after misjudging the ball and bobbled others.
“Anytime you come back from as many months off as I have, you’re going to have a little rust,” Claiborne said. “I have to read the ball. That ball will tell you different stories. You have to focus and can’t worry about the sun; you just have to read the ball. It’s tricky sometimes.”
It shouldn’t be a tricky decision for the coaching staff to find someone other than Claiborne to return punts.
If he contributes in the return game, it’s much more likely to be on kickoffs. He averaged 26.3 yards on 19 kickoff returns, including one touchdown, for LSU.
But if Claiborne starts at cornerback, as expected, it’s unlikely that he’ll be used at all in the return game.