IRVING, Texas -- The high-pitch whistle is out of place on a football field. Is it coming from a television camera? Is old age creeping in, and you are just hearing things?
Then you look over to the Dallas Cowboys' running back drills. The whistle is coming from the footballs as the running backs go through rope drills with the balls pinned to their chests.
"Yeah, it's a good technique," coach Jason Garrett said. "It's a good technology. The idea is that you want to hold the ball high and tight, and you want to have the point of the ball be up. We talk about five points of contact. Oftentimes, the ball gets down, and it gets loose.
"You don't want it low and loose. You want it high and tight. It's a good mechanism to have. [Running back coach Gary Brown] says, 'I want that ball singing.' So if he has the ball up, it's going to sing. That's a different way to reinforce the importance of ball security."
In February at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tom Creguer, the inventor of High and Tight and an assistant coach at Northwood University, sought out NFL running back coaches to pitch his product.
He first met Ollie Wilson of the San Diego Chargers to talk fumble statistics and the importance of holding onto the ball. Then he met with Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown. The two exchanged cards, and the Cowboys were among the four teams to purchase the HnTv1 training football.
The footballs debuted at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp. The veterans finally got their hands on them during the on-field teaching sessions. The Cowboys have ordered more.
“They love it,” Brown said of his backs. “The first time they did it, it was kind of hard on them because they had to keep it nice and tight. Their arms got a little sore. That’s OK. They’ll get over it.”
In 2010, Creguer decided he had enough of his team fumbling. He was coaching at Shepherd [Michigan] High School at the time. The team lost seven games because of second-half fumbles and finished 1-8.
“I’m not a gambling man,” Creguer said, “but I would’ve bet we’d at worst be opposite of that.”
After that season, he went about designing a football to help prevent fumbling. He went to a sensors convention, “listening to all these engineers and brainiacs. You ever think a coach stepped into these rooms?”
He was a coach, not a scientist, but he learned about surface area compression. He also learned the proper way to hold a football.
“You cannot compress a regulation football on the seams,” Creguer said. “The seams rotate, and the ball moves within your grip because you’re squeezing down.”
After seven prototypes in five years, Creguer went to market in January. The High and Tight ball has a sensor on the panels. As long as it maintains contact to the body and the ball is angled properly, tight to the chest, it whistles. If it loses contact, the ball is quiet.
In 2014, Northwood running backs had 11 of the team’s 14 fumbles. When using High and Tight’s HnTv1 training football, the running backs had four of the team’s seven fumbles.
Creguer said his players could tell when the ball wasn’t set right in their arms, and they began to instinctively cover up before defenders would hit them.
“It created awareness,” Creguer said.
Inside the Cowboys’ meeting room is a sign that reads "The Ball, The Ball, The Ball." Garrett often tells his team that the most important statistic in football is turnovers. Teams that hold onto the ball win more games.
On a wall outside the locker room, coaches post weekly pictures of players using proper ball security techniques. They also show pictures of opponents using improper technique.
“It’s not about brute strength,” Creguer said. “It’s constant pressure and closing the gap. ... You’ve got to have muscle memory.”
Fumbling has not been a big problem for the Cowboys’ running backs. In 2015, Darren McFadden lost three, and Joseph Randle lost one. In 2014, DeMarco Murray lost five, and Randle lost two. Alfred Morris has lost seven fumbles in four seasons but did not have a fumble in 2015.
Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, lost four fumbles in his college career.
“We want to make sure our No. 1 goal is ball security this year," Brown said. "We don’t want to fumble the ball, not one time."
At the combine, Creguer ran into Elliott and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and showed them High and Tight.
“He lit up when he saw it,” Creguer said.
A little more than two months later, the Cowboys drafted Elliott in the first round.
“When you have the football in the perfect position with all the points covered and tight to your body, it sings to you,” Elliott said. “When it stops singing, you know you’re doing something wrong. So you want to make sure it’s singing the whole time. Those balls just came out this year, so it’s a new ball that I’ve never worked with. At Ohio State, they had bats instead. They used to hit us with bats, so I like this better.”