FRISCO, Texas – George Iloka says he knows his new defense – but there’s a difference between knowledge and comfort. As the Cowboys build toward the end of their offseason program, Iloka’s working on the comfort part.
“I know the defense, it’s just getting to the point where you’re not thinking and just reacting,” he said. “That just comes with repetition.”
If he hasn’t had enough reps by the end of next week’s minicamp, it’s safe to say Iloka won’t be worried. The month-long grind of training camp is right around the corner, and that’s where the veteran safety said the true familiarity kicks into place.
“I’ve played this game long enough to know it comes with repetition, and those amount of reps, you usually acquire by mid-training camp,” he said.
It’ll be interesting to see what exactly it looks like when Iloka gets acclimated. Over the course of seven NFL seasons with Cincinnati and Minnesota, he has made 79 career starts – which is one more start than every other safety on the Cowboys’ roster, combined.
Having said that, Iloka is still the obvious newcomer to a situation that features two incumbent starters. As might be expected, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods have taken first-team reps throughout OTAs, while Iloka has worked with the second string defense.
Whether Iloka pushes for a starting job remains to be seen. But he said Wednesday that he likes the way the Cowboys deploy the strong safety close to the line of scrimmage in their scheme, and he’s excited for the chance to do that.
“I came here, honestly, because they gave me an opportunity,” he said. “It’s a different scheme from what I’ve played in the first seven years of my career, and I wanted to get into this system.”
What that opportunity entails is harder to say. Iloka was asked on Wednesday what his goals are for the coming season, and he was reluctant to say. From the sounds of it, though, he’s setting his expectations high.
“My goal from Day 1 is just to have the best year of my career,” he said. “If I go ahead and have that, the rest will take care of itself and speak for itself.”
This isn’t an attempt to project what Iloka is saying, but his career adds some heavy context to that statement. As a starter for the Bengals in 2014, he tallied 79 tackles with three interceptions and 10 pass deflections. Two years later in 2016, he followed that up with 73 tackles with another three picks and seven breakups.
Needless to say, if he tops either of those efforts in 2019, it will say quite a lot about what he has accomplished for the Cowboys.
That’s a long way off, though. It’s even further out than the midpoint of training camp, when Iloka hopes to find his comfort zone in the defense. But like so many other aspects of this Cowboys team, Iloka said that foundation is being laid now.
“I don’t really have to put out there my goals – my goal is to have the best year of my career,” he said. “That doesn’t happen now, but you work toward it now.”