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OXNARD, Calif. — A year ago, Trevon Diggs lamented missed opportunities.
The Cowboys cornerback had deflected 14 total passes as a rookie, three of which he secured for interceptions. That fell short of his standard.
"I got my hands on 14 balls, and I ended up with not 14 interceptions,” Diggs said July 25, 2021 from training camp. “So that's a problem. … I just want to make a significant jump from last year and capitalize on all the plays I didn't capitalize on last year.”
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In the takeaways column, award Diggs an A+ for capitalizing during his sophomore campaign. The All-Pro deflected 21 passes last season and intercepted a whopping 11—the most by any NFL player in the last 40 years. Diggs played 16 of 17 games, missing just the season finale due to illness. His instincts and ball-hawking ability elevated a defensive unit that in 2020 had given up a franchise-record 473 points. Dallas improved from 29.4 points allowed per game to 21, aided by the possessions Diggs snapped. The Cowboys also led the league in takeaways.
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And yet, they thirst for more. Diggs does not want to “settle” for 11.
“Be higher than last year,” Diggs said of his goal. “Beat my 11 and just keep going and improving.”
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Training camp competitive periods offer prime opportunities to hone the awareness that will demand. While NFL rules restricting preseason contact and pads time limit the effectiveness of line-of-scrimmage work, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy emphasizes the opportunity such sessions give perimeter players and their defenders. Diggs often lines up in competitive periods against receiver and fellow 2020 draft classmate CeeDee Lamb, who scored six touchdowns and posted a team-best 1,102 receiving yards last year. Lamb’s advanced ball skills, route-running and versatility command Diggs’ respect.
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“When you got two people like that, just going hard every play, no one wants to lose, it’s going to naturally just make you a better player and get you ready for the season,” Diggs said. “It helps a lot, just that competitiveness. He’s like, ‘You’re not going to beat me.’
“ ‘And I’m like, ‘You’re not going to beat me.’”
When Dak Prescott saw WFT test Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs deep on first ball, Dak thought: "Why? Why would you try him on the first play?"
"It looked like he was the receiver," Dak said of Trevon's 11th INT. "Honestly, it sets the tone...the mentality."pic.twitter.com/rPrgOi7Hqm
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) December 27, 2021
That’s the intensity McCarthy wants Lamb to familiarize himself as he prepares for his role in the Cowboys offense to attract more defensive attention.
Diggs and the defense, meanwhile, will seek to reduce big plays allowed after opponents burned them for gains of 20-plus yards 62 times last season (tied for fourth-most in league) and plays of 40-plus yards 14 times (third worst). Diggs missed 16.1% of tackle attempts, per Pro Football Reference, the second-highest rate among Cowboys defenders and most among teammates off the line (defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa missed 16.3%).
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He sees areas for growth in his technique and his demonstrated intensity, eager to set an example for younger defensive backs on how to finish plays.
“I want to run to the ball every play, I don’t want anyone catching the ball over me, I don’t want to give up a touchdown,” Diggs said. “I do feel a lot better than last year.”
Will the Cowboys defense as a whole feel and look better than last year? Diggs believes they can in coordinator Dan Quinn’s second Dallas season. But the cornerback doubts opponents agree.
“We just haven’t gotten the respect that we needed yet,” he said. “That’s nobody’s fault. It’s really our fault. We just got to go out there and show what we can do, hold ourselves to the high standard we are, and accomplish that.”
Diggs points to cornerback Anthony Brown, who nabbed the first interception of training camp on Wednesday, and hybrid safety/linebacker Jayron Kearse as Cowboys defenders flying under the radar.
“We’ve got a great group of guys, but I feel like we’re kind of underrated,” Diggs said. “I know how we work, I know how we perform, I know how we practice, I know what guys I got in my room. So I know what we can do. It’s just all on us to put it on tape and show it.
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“We’re trying to make a statement across the league.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Beat my 11’: Cowboys All-Pro CB Trevon Diggs sets lofty goal for 2022 NFL season
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