- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys are confident that Barry Church will be a quality starter at strong safety, but there is still one big question.
How will Church fare when teams try to attack him with the vertical passing game?
Head coach Jason Garrett points out that Church has done well when the Cowboys’ offense has tested him deep during training camp. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan admits, however, that he’s looking forward to preseason foes trying to expose Church in the deep half of the field.
With a game and a pair of practices against the San Diego Chargers over the next week, the Cowboys should have plenty of answers about Church’s progress as a back-end pass defender. San Diego coach Norv Turner, quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates should provide a pretty good measuring stick.
“I know Norv will be licking his chops when he’s in his slot formation,” Ryan said. “We’ll be looking forward to that test, and they’ve got a guy named Gates who is pretty good. He’s good when you’ve got two guys covering him, so we’ll see how we do this week.”
Church displayed his ability to make plays in front of him in the preseason opener against the Raiders. He’s an instinctive player and big hitter who will rarely let a receiver catch the ball in front of the sticks and gain the first down.
But no safety gets to play moving forward all of the time, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL. And Church’s lack of speed caused him to go undrafted after his four-time All-MAC career at Toledo.
“There’s all these things you say that he’s not this, he’s not that, he’s not the other thing, but he’s one of those guys that prove to you that maybe that assessment isn’t quite so accurate,” Garrett said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll continue to do that on the back end. He looks comfortable back there. He’s certainly a very physical player, but I think he’s getting more comfortable playing on the back end of the defense.”
We should find out just how comfortable Church is back there during the Cowboys’ visit with the Chargers.