- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- There was all sorts of praise coming from Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Friday regarding rookie safety J.J. Wilcox.
It appears Wilcox will move into the starting lineup for Sunday's Week 3 game against the St. Louis Rams. If that occurs, Wilcox will become the first rookie to start at safety for Dallas since Patrick Watkins in 2006, when he started nine regular-season games.
Wilcox's journey is interesting.
At Georgia Southern, he played wide receiver and running back before switching to safety his senior year. Wilcox started 13 games and earned first-team All-Southern Conference honors. The Cowboys liked his potential as a playmaker and drafted him in the third round, 80th overall.
"Well, we like what he’s done and we drafted him where we drafted him for a reason, and that was a concern (lack of safety experience) of ours just really based on biography more than anything else," Garrett said. "It wasn’t anything we necessarily saw on tape that would be a concern for us. He was a small-school guy, didn’t have a lot of experience playing the position in college, but since playing here he’s demonstrated the ability to pick things up quickly. He’s an instinctive player. He has a good feel for the game and a good feel for being around the football and making plays."
In camp, Wilcox made several key plays in practice, but he left camp for 10 days when his mother, Marshell, died after a long bout with lupus. Wilcox returned and felt he was behind, but led the Cowboys in tackles in the preseason and picked up an interception.
"Anytime you stay a day away from football, it puts you weeks behind," Wilcox said. "So I had to catch up mentally and physically, just get back into shape and get back mentally, just getting back into a groove and getting a feel for it and catching up with the schemes. Coach (Monte) Kiffin does a great job with me day in and day out staying after (practice), and it’s coming along pretty good."
Wilcox took his mother's death hard and was worried about his father, James, and sister, Lesha, whom he left behind in Cairo, Ga., to deal with family issues while he returned to the Cowboys. But Wilcox said dad and sister are fine, and they saw him play in the Week 1 game against the New York Giants.
There's a chance his father and sister will come to Sunday's game, but Lesha has a cheerleading competition to attend.
"She's seen me play," Wilcox said of his mother. "She's had a chance to see her son actually make it to what I've always wanted to do. That’s the main thing, and I have to keep it living and just make her happy and do what she wanted me to do."