IRVING, Texas – Former Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls holds the record for most seasons leading the league in interceptions with three.
The first came in his rookie year, when he hauled in 11 interceptions. No one's recorded that many picks in a season since Walls did so in 1981, although he believes getting double-digit picks is more possible in today's pass-happy game than it was back then.
Walls, a Dallas native who made his presence felt immediately after coming into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent, talked at length about a variety of subjects. He touched on the attitude rookie free agents need to take when they get their shot, as well as today's Cowboys defense and the defensive back play in Dallas.
What advice would you give to the undrafted free agents coming in now?
Walls:"I would say whatever emotions you had from being disrespected, from being looked over – you know, all of that negativity, all of that – any bad emotion that you had towards anyone, I'd say keep that. Keep it inside, and use that as much as you can, because my entire career was about proving people just how wrong they can be. So to this day, when I meet people, Dick Vermeil, (Bill) Belichick, (Bill) Parcells, anybody, I ask them or tease them about, 'Why did you keep coming at me?' They all say the same things, 'Well, you couldn't do this, you couldn't do that.' Use all of that. Use all of those things that were said about you."
You said you're OK with the players the Cowboys have at corner, and you were more surprised they didn't take a safety early on?
Walls: "I think when you know what's going on behind you or in front of you once you line up, it gives you more of a comfort zone. That comfort zone can really add to your confidence, and I don't think the cornerbacks we have are confident in what's going on in front of them. I don't think they're confident in their front seven. I don't think they're confident in what their scheme is in front of them as well. The more you get entrenched into your system, the more you start to trust your system. Right now, I just don't think they trust the system itself, because they are great athletes."
Was it hard to watch the pass defense last season?
Walls:"It's very difficult, because as fans we always think we know everything. But when you're a former player and a fan, then you pretty much do know what's going to happen. You can almost feel it in the moment during certain parts of the game, and I think that's what these players have to be – they have to be in the moment. Sometimes you know what's going to happen. Don't be afraid of it, embrace that fear, because there is fear."
*You mentioned how corners need to be more mentally alert. Do you feel too many corners rely too much on their athleticism? *
Walls: "I really don't know if these guys really study the tendencies of offenses or wide receivers as we did back in the day. I think they do just rely on talents and if they're doing that they're making a mistake, because when you line up against a person, you have to have some idea about what's coming. You have to have some idea, and when that receiver tips his hand, then that's when you know your hypothesis was correct." [embedded_ad]
Do you believe in Morris Claiborne and think he can meet the lofty expectations?
Walls:"I really do. They talk about Mo's strength, saying he needs to increase his strength. That could be so, but what I see in Mo is because he's thinking so much with his brain, his feet stop working. I've seen it happen to so many players. I played with a couple of guys like that – they have the guy covered, but when you play cornerback and that ball is in the air and you know that ball is in the air and you know everyone's watching, you know everyone's depending on you, it takes a special kind of person to fulfill those wishes for the fans and for yourself and for your teammates. You can feel that pressure when it's in the air, and you have to embrace it. You just do. You have to embrace it and realize that you're entitled just as much as the person with the ball."
Do you think the Cowboys addressed the defense enough in the offseason and in the draft?
Walls: "Better defense, that's all I'm looking for. As a free agent, I never believe in superstars. Superstars are made, they're not drafted. To me, they're made. These are guys that no matter where you go, when you line up against that person, there's no way you can tell me you're a better player than I am. I've never believed in that, and this is the way those players have to believe…You have to draft a mentality more than you have to draft, say, a talent."
When I mentioned Barry Church's name earlier, you started smiling. Do you find yourself rooting for undrafted guys? Walls: "I do. I do find myself rooting for them, because I know where they've been, but I also find myself giving them fewer excuses, because I know what I did, you see. As a free agent, I'm going to be harder on another free agent than I guess I would be on a first-rounder."