Interceptions have been lacking from the Dallas Cowboys’ secondary in recent years.
They had just 10 last season, tying for 24th in the league. But that marked an improvement from single-digit totals in 2016 (nine) and 2015 (eight).
Are the Cowboys confident they’ll get back on track?
"I don’t like to make guarantees, but if we just keep doing our techniques and keep listening to what our coaches say, that’s definitely going to be a goal of ours," cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said. "It’s really just mindset, learning when you can make those and anticipate those throws, when you can make those plays."
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Awuzie said the secondary has been more vocal when a teammate fails to come up with an interception throughout the offseason practices.
"If someone drops a pick, we’re more kind of on that guy," Awuzie said. "It's all in fun and games, but we know that when it’s time to go that we’re going to need those interceptions. So that’s definitely the goal for a defensive back, every defensive back in this league."
As coach Jason Garrett says repeatedly, there is no greater barometer between wins and losses than the turnover margin. And interceptions are an area where the Cowboys can improve.
This is a team that had 18, tied for seventh in the league, during their playoff run in 2014.
The hope is that a new secondary coach, Kris Richard, will bring about new techniques and philosophies that lead to interceptions. Richard made a name for himself as being the architect of Seattle’s "Legion of Boom" defense that played a pivotal role in its Super Bowl run in 2013.
"It’s all in the technique," Awuzie said. "If you can master his [Richard's] technique, limit the deep balls, make plays when you need to, I feel like we’re going to be good."
Awuzie, entering his second year after being a second-round pick out of Colorado, had one as a rookie. He intercepted a pass by Philadelphia’s Nick Foles in the season finale.
Safety Jeff Heath led the team with three. He also led the team with two interceptions in 2015.
But the Cowboys are banking on younger secondary players such as Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods to take strides going into their second seasons. They’ve also moved Byron Jones from safety to cornerback with the belief he’ll become more of a playmaker in that role.
There’s no question the secondary is a unit that the Cowboys are optimistic about, and the players are too.
"We want to be the best, that’s always the goal, to be the best," Awuzie said. "The more plays we make on the ball, the more times we limit deep balls, we’ll have a chance to do that. That’s our mindset.
"Hopefully we can be the energy and the edge that this team needs. Not just the defense, but this team needs."