ARLINGTON, Texas – DaRon Bland has quickly become the spice of life in North Texas, and his Scoville reading is through the roof. The 24-year-old is playing well beyond his years as a resident ballhawk for the Dallas Cowboys, a designation made that much more impressive by the fact he's a former fifth-round pick — also performing as if his number was called in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
When Bland dropped back and intercepted a pass from Matthew Stafford that was intended for former Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, returning it for a touchdown, it marked his third pick-six of the year and the most by any Cowboys' defender … ever … in season.
He explained what he saw on that fateful play.
"I saw Cooper Kupp in the stack and he had an option route," Bland said of the pick-six against Stafford. "He broke out and once he turned, I saw that ball and I said, 'Thank you.'"
He is now only one pick-six shy of tying the NFL record for most in a single season — owned by former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Eric Allen (how apropos is this?), who set the record in 1993 — with a chance to move next to Allen when the Cowboys take on the Eagles in Week 9 in hostile territory.
"It's something I wasn't expecting, but I feel blessed," said Bland. "I feel blessed."
Anyone who has ever crossed paths with Bland will attest to his humility, though, and so there's no celebrating this individual accomplishment, despite the list of Hall of Fame and/or Ring of Honor names he's walked past in order to grab it.
And he's done it after being moved from nickel corner, where he had a breakout season as a rookie last year, to the boundary in the wake of Trevon Diggs' suffering a torn ACL. Bland hasn't lost a step. Instead, he's actually gained several, now having nine interceptions in his first 13 NFL starts to go along with his three pick-sixes.
He's always looking to improve, so not hauling in two potential interceptions against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6 haunted him through the bye week like something from the Conjuring universe.
On Sunday, he made Valek pay.
"I was just telling the guys that I dropped those two [interceptions] against the Chargers, and I gotta get those two back. I'm glad I came back with a pick-six."
That said, he has to now reevaluate a few things heading into Week 9, at least as it relates to setting a new personal goal with half of the regular season still on the calendar and, as such, a lot more throws to his side of the field.
"My goal was to have at least one [this season]," Bland admitted with a smile. "I have to rethink it now, halfway through the season. … I wouldn't have thought it would've come this quickly. I'm just doing my job.
"... It means a lot. You know Diggs was always one to get the ball, so to be able to step in feels good."
As the team ran into the locker room following yet another blowout victory, a 43-20 throttling of the Rams that saw them score in all three phases of the game (the only NFL team to accomplish this feat in 2023), quarterback Dak Prescott jogged up to Bland and celebrated the young cornerback.
"He's that guy!" said Prescott.
Asked to elaborate on just how special Bland has been, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback didn't hold back with the rightful praise of Bland.
"That's why I said he's that guy," said Prescott. "Not a lot of guys can change positions like that and make the impact he's been able to make. Obviously, when you lose a guy like Trevon, people wonder. And then a guy like that steps in and says, 'Hey, I'm here, and I'm here to play.'
"That's important. That's huge. And he's a mature man that prepares the right way and does everything throughout the week.
"There's not a big rah rah. He rarely even talks much, but he does it with his play on the field and he does it at practice."
Prescott harkens back to Bland's first training camp in 2022, when the latter went from a late-round pick to one of the best performers in Oxnard, to the point where he had Prescott raising eyebrows.
"He's made some plays on me that had me like, 'This guy knows what he's looking at. This guy knows what he's doing,'" said the Cowboys quarterback. "He's confident in himself — trusts breaking at the right time and making the right plays. He's only going to get better.
"… He's been impressive and this is only the beginning."
Bland's young career has basically turned into an episode of "Hot Ones", and opposing quarterbacks can keep trying to take a bite out of him if they'd like, but they're finding — time and again — that the burn is real.