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IRVING, Texas (AP) — Morris Claiborne is backing up Orlando Scandrick and preparing to play plenty of snaps against New Orleans, just as he did in several games last year.
For reasons he wouldn't fully explain, the third-year Dallas cornerback had a much harder time accepting that plan this time around.
Claiborne returned to practice Wednesday a day after walking out on the team upon hearing that he was being replaced as a starter by Scandrick.
The former top-10 pick skipped meetings and a short walk-through practice Tuesday before returning to the facility about eight hours later to meet with coach Jason Garrett, who said Claiborne would be disciplined but wouldn't reveal how.
Claiborne said he left the facility because he was angry over how the lineup change was "presented to me," not because he was being demoted. But he wouldn't offer more details.
"I was ready for whatever fines or anything came with that," said Claiborne, who said he hasn't been told how he will be punished. "I felt like if I stayed, who knows what would have happened. I felt like the best thing for me to do was to leave."
Scandrick missed the first two games because of a four-game drug suspension. When that ban was rescinded last week, he returned and played about as much as Claiborne, who was beaten several times but made a clinching interception in a 34-31 victory at St. Louis.
Claiborne said himself that he "stunk it up" against the Rams, and that the late pick wasn't enough to make up for getting beat repeatedly. But that didn't mean he was ready for someone to tell him he'd lost his job.
"I think he understood that he made a mistake," Garrett said. "Guys are competitors. When they hear news that doesn't go their way, different guys react different ways. He obviously knew he didn't react the right way."
After meeting with Garrett, Claiborne said he apologized to his teammates Wednesday morning. After practice, several players said they supported Claiborne and understood why he felt the need to leave.
"I think Mo cares a lot," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I think it was something he probably wishes he would have made a different decision. In saying that, he's a good teammate and he works hard and he's going to help our football team a lot this year."
The cornerbacks will be a focal point Sunday night against Drew Brees and the Saints (1-2), who became the first team in NFL history to get 40 first downs in a 49-17 blowout of the Cowboys (2-1) last year.
Brees has thrown for 838 yards and seven touchdowns the past two seasons against Dallas.
"I'm going to play a big role on this team in this game to come and in games to come down the road," Claiborne said. "I'm here to stand up and fill the shoes that I need to fill and do whatever I need to do for this team."
Because of injuries and inconsistent play, Claiborne hasn't lived up to expectations since the Cowboys gave up their second-round draft choice to move up eight spots and get him with the sixth overall pick out of LSU in 2012.
Owner Jerry Jones even acknowledged on his radio show Tuesday that Claiborne hadn't produced like he hoped. But the former Louisiana high school star said the burden of what he cost the Cowboys wasn't a factor in Tuesday's drama.
"That's what people say," said Claiborne, who has one interception in each of his three seasons. "I don't feel it. I never really think about it."
Scandrick started a career-high 15 games last year and was one of the best players in training camp, but Claiborne got the first three starts this year because of Scandrick's suspension for violating the policy on performance-enhancing drugs. A change to the policy brought him back early.
Asked last week whether he should start, Scandrick said it was up to the coaches. Asked again after Claiborne's demotion, the seventh-year player offered a stronger opinion.
"I feel like I'm still ascending as a player," said Scandrick, a fifth-round pick in 2008. "And yes, I do feel like I've earned the right to play full time."
Claiborne doesn't disagree. He just feels the same way about himself.
NOTES: Romo skipped practice Wednesday, just as he did last week before playing his best game since returning from back surgery. ... LB Justin Durant (groin) returned to practice and will likely return against the Saints after missing two games, while LB Rolando McClain is still out with his groin problem. ... Henry Melton (hamstring), Terrell McClain (concussion) and Davon Coleman (knee) didn't practice, leaving just two healthy DTs in Nick Hayden and Ken Bishop.
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