Monday, May 19, 2014
J.J. Wilcox emerging as starter
By Calvin Watkins
The Cowboys didn't address the safety position in the first two days of the NFL draft.
On Day 3, the Cowboys selected safety Ahmad Dixon from Baylor in the seventh round. He's viewed more of a special-teams player but there is the potential to move to the defense.
The Cowboys have three players competing for the free safety spot in J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson and Jeff Heath.
It seems when the first-team defense takes the field for practices this offseason, Wilcox will get the call alongside strong safety Barry Church.
"Right now Wilcox is in the driver's seat," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "He has the first opportunity to solidify [the spot] and we are hopeful that he does. But we know behind him we have some hungry guys."
Last season, Wilcox's progression pushed the Cowboys to release veteran Will Allen in October. Wilcox maintained the starting job until a knee injury at Philadelphia forced him to miss three games.
Heath took over the starting gig and Wilcox couldn't get it back.
There were personal issues with Wilcox, whose mom passed away during training camp, that caused him to miss valuable practice time. When he returned he became a solid performer for the Cowboys but the inconsistency at the position has given the Cowboys pause about giving somebody the starting job full time.
Johnson, a 2012 fourth-round pick, hasn't played in a regular-season game due to hamstring and back injuries. This could be the year he finally makes the 53-man roster and plays in a game, if he stays healthy.
Of course, the Cowboys have Dixon, who is determined to show he's ready to play at this level, Heath and Jakar Hamilton making an impact on the roster.
The two best safeties in the draft, Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix weren't high priorities for the Cowboys due to their issues along the defensive front. The draft game plan for the Cowboys was to improve the pass rush and get the best player available, which was the case in the first two rounds when the team selected Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin (first round) and Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (second round).
"You wish you could draft them all and get the best," Henderson said. "We trust Mr. [Jerry] Jones and his personnel staff on making those decisions. I'm just happy to coach the safeties we have. I think they are going to be a really good group this year. Barry Church (leading tackler) is coming off a really good season after the year he had the year before when he started off really strong and then we lost him for the year, he came back and played really well. At the other spot we are looking someone to emerge and really take that spot."
It appears to be Wilcox.