J.J. Wilcox In Lead At Free Safety, Barry Church Only Sure Thing

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Barry Church far and away leads the crowded field at Safety. Six players are rookies or in their 2nd year. There are eight safeties on the roster, and last year Dallas finished the season with 5. The opportunity for the 8th safety is much higher than other players trying out for the team. There are no entrenched starters at the Free Safety position. Wilcox leads the pack.

The latest reports have J.J. Wilcox in lead at free safety, currently playing with the starters.
Church-mug
Call Barry Church the Sheriff, he cleans up town.
heath
Jeff Heath was the safety the staff chose to put on the field opposite Church most often down the stretch in 2013.
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Jakar Hamilton – The greatest challenger to Wilcox’s starting role.
42 Church, Barry S 6’2″ 218 26 5 Toledo
Barry Church is the reigning star in the back end of Dallas’ troubled defense. His star shines brighter on coach’s film than TV broadcasts. He’s always cleaning up other player’s mistakes. You see the other safety miss a tackle, or take a bad angle to break on the ball; Barry Church arrives and makes a clean solo tackle. He’s very consistent, takes good angles, makes sound tackles, and occasionally strips a fumble. He’s very reliable but someone needs to spice up the play making next to him. When Wilcox was on the field for Dallas, in a handful of plays, it seemed like the coach’s plan was to allow Wilcox to freelance a bit while Church covered his mistakes. If Wilcox or someone else can make those plays, then Church will probably get even less attention but the success of the backfield would grow greatly.
36 Dixon, Ahmad S 6’0 212 22 R Baylor
Injured at the Senior Bowl, he’s recovered and practicing. The Dallas coaches are having him practice man coverage. Broadhaus spelled out his battles with Devin Street, and suggested Dixon could cover him one on one, with some development. Street is a rookie, but Dixon performing man to man coverage on a WR was not expected from draft pundits. In practice he’s taken some bad angles, unused to NFL reads, and his tackling is suspect. He may grow quickly in training camp. Last year, rookie safeties looked like rookies, so hope Dixon is just a special teamer this year. Many saw Dixon as Church’s back up, but if he grows in his man coverage, he may challenge to play either safety position down the road.
23 Hamilton, Jakar S 5’11” 195 24 2 South Carolina State
Promoted to the active roster on October 26, 2013. Currently receiving rave reviews for his athleticism. Can he push Jeff Heath? Hamilton was burned the least in 2013, partly because he saw the field the least. He’s light weight as the Dallas Safeties go, and needs to make up for the weight difference with play making, either in the passing game or with his speed to the tackle. He’s vastly more experienced as a a safety than both Heath and Wilcox and yet here he is fighting for a roster spot. Hamilton spent two years in the SEC and was a good player for Georgia.
38 Heath, Jeff S 6’1″ 209 23 2 Saginaw Valley State
Jeff Heath. Contrary to our suspicions he did not get checked into a burn center after the season. His worst moments came in man coverage. In one case, he wasn’t strong enough when he caught the receiver in mid-route; the receiver punched him back and got open. Maybe he’s stronger in his 2nd season. In another case he used the 3-step shuffle in man coverage on a receiver lined up inside. The receiver easily got behind him. Maybe his technique can improve too. He looks pretty quick on film. His flaws look like they can get improve. Without a drastic leap in year two he won’t challenge to start again. He’s bigger than Hamilton and does have some speed.
37 Johnson, Matt S 6’1″ 212 24 3 Eastern Washington
Matt Johnson is still on the roster. He’s made it to year 3 of his NFL career out of game film from his time at Eastern Washington. He’s here, so if he get’s a slight chance, hope he comes through. The memory of Jimmy Smith turning into a dynamo after 3 injury riddled years must motivate the GM to keep Johnson around. In addition, Johnson is the 2nd highest draft pick at the safety position over the last several years. Dallas believed he was more talented than the 4th round, but playing in Eastern Washington limited his stock. There’s no one competing for his roster spot right now and the staff believes he is talented.
43 Smith, Keith S 6’0″ 199 22 R San Jose State
He played LB at San Jose State. DC.com lists him at 199, but he weighed in at 233 lbs at his college day. It’s hard to believe a man can record a 6.87 3-cone but only get a 4.98 40 yard dash. He is very hard to find information on, and the data seems contradictory. Most likely He’s half safety and half linebacker, intended for a role on the nickle defense. Can he really of lost 30 lbs between the senior bowl and now? Or is his listed weight an ideal weight? Perhaps someone told him he wasn’t going to make it in the NFL as a LBer, so he needed to gain speed and shed some size. He’s been anonymous at the practices so far, making him a dark horse to make the roster.
33 Smith, Ryan S 6’0″ 227 22 R Auburn
Ryan Smith impressed pundits at the Rookie Minicamp. He was said to show impressive movement skills and flexibility. He played some corner and in the slot. He’s the heaviest safety. He should have a role on special teams. Bryan Broadhaus of Dallascowboys.com says Ryan Smith is ahead of Ahmad Dixon in understanding the scheme, as of the Minicamp.
27 Wilcox, J.J. S 6’0″ 217 23 2 Georgia Southern
J.J. Wilcox is the heavy favorite to start the season at FS opposite Barry Church. Wilcox is scheduled to be a star. In game film he was susceptible to play action passes, and took some poor angles when breaking on the ball. Now in his second year, with all the talent that goes with being a 3rd round pick, he’s expected to start opposite Church and to make plays. If he’s keeps up with Dallas’s plans, he’s in for quite a year. Good luck. He may be young but at least he’s unproven. He’s got a lot of talent but he seemed quite distant from playing mistake free football in 2013. He made keying mistakes which can be improved with film study.

On the final roster last year, Dallas carried 5 safeties. Church, Wilcox and Hamilton seem like locks to make the roster right now.

Ranking the Safeties

  1.  Barry Church
  2.   J.J. Wilcox
  3.   Matt Johnson
  4.   Jakar Hamilton
  5.   Jeff Heath
  6.   Ryan Smith
  7.   Ahmad Dixon
  8.   Keith Smith

The Dallas Cowboys can win a Superbowl fielding Barry Church at strong safety. He’s mistake free and fundamentally sound. The other players have potential; Dallas needs one of the safeties, 2-8, to step up and play the other safety position at a high level. They drafted players like J.J. Wilcox because they believe they could eventually cover NFL receivers. They always dreamed of playing in the NFL. Every safety on this roster has a legitimate shot at starting opposite Church. Every player besides Church and Johnson is in their 2nd year or a rookie.

Matt Johnson Matt Johnson — Jimmy Smith of the defense?

If Matt Johnson were on the field he should be the best or 2nd best safety, according to expectations when they took him. Is he going to be a great back up safety and special teams player? If he’s not expected to be better than J.J. Wilcox — and as a 4th round draft pick, he’s one round less valuable than Wilcox — then he has to play a lot of special teams. Unfortunately for him, he’s not getting much time there or anywhere on the practice field.

2013 3rd round pick J.J. Wilcox has an awesome opportunity laid out for him. That said, the best safety on the roster is one time undrafted free agent Barry Church. While it’s J.J. Wilcox job to lose, he can lose it.

While the competition to see who starts at CB should be the best, because it has the best players, the competition to be the 2nd safety on the field in the regular defense is the most wide open. It has the biggest field and the least sure competition. Ultimately finding a confident player at other safety position opposite Barry Church will be more important than the CB battle for the 2014 season.

Say hi, @nickwelp on Twitter and AustonianAggie in the comments

Nicholas Welp
Austin, TX based Cowboys fan and writer. @nickwelp on Twitter. Check out some of my discography. Web development is my career. And did you know I teach?
Nicholas Welp
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6 thoughts on “J.J. Wilcox In Lead At Free Safety, Barry Church Only Sure Thing”

  1. Calvin Pryor would have fit nicely as FS and quite possibly solved the problem for the next 10 years but we can understand that Cowboys want to see what they have with especially Wilcox and hopefully Johnson. If they don’t get what they want out of one of those 2 this year they need to draft a FS in the first or second round in the 2015 draft.

  2. “Contrary to our suspicions he did not get checked into a burn center after the season.”

    Ok, that made me laugh.

  3. Jerry likes to draft injured players almost like a futures contract. Matt is a great safety who doesn’t have any competition on the PUP or ir. He by far is the best safety to never play a down in the nfl.

    That is why Jerry drafted him. And according to Jerrah if he hadn’t the giants would. I would hate for our NFC east rival to have such a great player on their pup.

    1. AustonianAggie

      It reminds me of how Leonard Davis turned his career into left tackle money while playing guard.

  4. SmartThinking

    Of all the positions on this team’s defense, the Safety is the one opposing QB’s seemed to exploit the most. Or, maybe the plays and their outcomes were just bigger. In either case, Dallas appears to believe Wilcox is the guy. I can’t for the life of me understand why Johnson is still on this team coming into his third season and still not playing a down. When fit, he must be an over-the-top player. But that’s his problem. He can’t stay injury-free. I have to believe this coming training camp is his chance to excel or leave.

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