OXNARD, Calif. – When veteran cornerback Maurice Canady decide to opt out of the 2020 season for personal reasons, he said he wasn't worried about what his NFL future might hold.
He certainly wasn't concerned about losing his place.
"No, I did not, because in this league, you got to prove yourself every year," Canady said. "Even if you have a five-year contract, it's yearly. I wasn't really worried.
And now we know why.
Because here in 2021, as Canady has returned to the Cowboys' training camp, the cornerback has arguably been the most surprising player of the entire camp.
He's made several big plays on defense, most notably his knack for interceptions, snagging at least five in the team periods, and one big pick against the Rams during the joint practice last weekend.
Not only has he surprised the onlookers, but even his head coach, too.
"I didn't know his ball skills were this good," McCarthy said. "He's a heck of a player, we obviously we loved him when we signed him – didn't have him because of the pandemic – but my goodness, just the way he tracks the football, I've been so impressed with him. He's having an excellent camp. His ball skills were much better than I was aware of."
It's not that Canady wasn't considered a quality player for the Cowboys, but when they signed him in free agency in 2020, he was more of a special teams player. In fact, the Cowboys were hopeful he could be one of the core players in the kicking game before Canady decided to sit out of football in 2020 for Covid-19 concerns.
This year, he said early in training camp that he was "ready to be a Cowboy."
And so far, his play on the field has said as much.
But now, it seems as if Canady has even surpassed the questions about making the team. Even his new DB coach said it's getting to the point where he's going to be pushing for playing time.
"I think he's done an excellent job in there at the nickel position," secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. "He's touched more (passes) than anybody in the secondary, anybody on defense. I think both of those guys together (Canady and Jourdan Lewis) are causing us to say, we need to find a package where both of them are on the field at the same time."
Whitt, who worked with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta, said he is also surprised by Canady's level of play.
"To be honest with you, I didn't know that he would be at the level where he is," Whitt said. "He's playing fast, he's playing with intent, he's downhill, playing with purpose, and it just needs to continue. He can't get satisfied with where he is, and none of us can. But just been pleased with him."
So pleased that Whitt said Canady has started to emerge into his personalized theory when deciding who gets into the game.
"I believe in a system called 'Feed the Studs.' If you play well, we'll find a place for you," he said. "But there's a lot of guys that are showing they are deserving of play time. But you can only send 11 out there at a time."
If training camp is any indication, look for Canady to be one of those 11 more often than not.