Cowboys consider Wilcox foundation piece

OXNARD, Calif. -- J.J. Wilcox isn't just the other guy in the first fight at Dallas Cowboys training camp.

The player who put a big hit on Dez Bryant and connected with a roundhouse right when the receiver took umbrage is a huge part of the Cowboys' defensive plans for the foreseeable future.

Wilcox, a third-round pick in his second season, entered camp atop the depth chart at the safety spot next to Barry Church and has done nothing but put distance between himself and the field the last couple of weeks. His physical style and playmaking ability cause the Cowboys to consider Wilcox a potential foundation piece.

"It's not just this defense, it's any defense that you want to build around players like that, that cut it loose," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "That's one thing J.J. does. He's not afraid to go stick his face in, he's not afraid to go make a play, he's not afraid to be aggressive and we like that.

"The ball is in the air and he's aggressive to go get it. He has great hands. I guess that's why he was an offensive player [in college] because of his hands. But then he has the physicalness that you like. He has tremendous, tremendous ability."

That ability is still raw, considering that Wilcox played receiver and running back until he switched to safety before his senior season at Georgia Southern.

Wilcox showed flashes that caught the coaches' attention during last season's training camp, but that didn't carry over to performance during the regular season. He looked lost at times, which isn't a surprise considering his inexperience at the position and the facts that he missed about 10 days of camp after his mother's sudden death and three games due to a knee injury.

"As a guy who was a third-round pick, I had high expectations for myself and I think the organization did, too," said Wilcox, who called his rookie season below-average. "It was a lot of roller-coaster rides and a lot of bumps along the road.

"This year is smoother. I have no excuses this year. I'm just going to go out there and lay it on the line."

The Cowboys hope that's the case for Wilcox as a starting safety for a long time to come.