FRISCO, Texas – It would be a huge mistake to rush to judgment based on two days of unpadded practice.
But for a group that's emphasizing takeaways, it's hard not to notice that the Cowboys' defense is getting to the ball – and doing it consistently, at least with this small sample size.
"That's the expectation every day," said Chidobe Awuzie on Sunday. "Donovan Wilson got one yesterday, AB got one earlier and then I got one. Daryl Worley punched the ball out yesterday, so we're getting to the ball – that's always good."
Awuzie picked off Ben Dinucci during Sunday's practice, while Anthony Brown intercepted a deep throw from Andy Dalton. Trevon Diggs had a near-pick of Dak Prescott later in the day. Throw in the aforementioned Wilson pick from Friday, not to mention plays on the ball by guys like Worley and Jaylon Smith, and the trend is easy to spot.
Again, two productive days of practice does not make for a great defense, but it is an encouraging sign. It also may be a glimpse of what can happen when an offense doesn't know what to expect.
"It's about the pre-disguised looks," Awuzie said. "Last year, everybody knew we were running Cover 3. That's not to say that was bad – we had great players, so it didn't matter what we ran – we wanted to execute. But now we're trying to be a little bit more multiple, with our pre-disguised looks."
To Awuzie's point, the Cowboys definitely weren't terrible in 2019. They finished the season ranked 10th in yards allowed per game and 11th in scoring. But they did find themselves incapable of getting stops in several of their most gutting losses. More importantly, they finished with just 17 takeaways, and their seven total interceptions tied for last in the league.
From the sounds of it, the hope is that this defense – which was already fairly talented – can enhance that talent by making it harder for opponents to guess what's coming.
"When you have two high safeties or one high safety before the play starts, it's very easy for a quarterback to diagnose where they're going to go with the ball before the play starts," Awuzie said. "But when we're in our disguises – moving and being active, not being statues – it's going to be real hard for them. They're going to have to diagnose while the play is going. I think that's going to produce stats and turnovers."
Now, the job for Awuzie and his teammates will be making sure he's on the field to accumulate those stats and turnovers. There had been offseason speculation that the new coaches may want to move Awuzie to safety this season, but he said he hasn't had any conversations about that.
Instead, he's one of about five corners getting the bulk of the big playing time, along with Brown, Diggs, Worley and Jourdan Lewis. To this point, it's anyone's guess what the starting trio will be for Week 1.
"There's going to be a lot of competition there," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "I think it's a position I've felt, like pass rusher, you can't have enough coverage players and the ability for those guys to play multiple positions is key."
There's no time like the present. Awuzie is one of three veteran corners who is entering a contract season. He even joked that he didn't consider opting out of the season because it's a contract year.
However it shakes out, there's at least cause for optimism that 2020 will be a bit more productive.
"My goal is to compete. We're all brothers, we all have the same ideas in terms of wanting to play and to push each other," Awuzie said. "But this defense has always been a 'Each One, Teach One.' No matter what, we have each other's backs"