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Friday, September 20, 2013
The case for Cowboys rookie J.J. Wilcox

By Calvin Watkins

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are on the verge of their first major defensive change of the 2013 season: benching veteran safety Will Allen in favor of rookie J.J. Wilcox.

Wilcox
The move isn't official, but Wilcox, a third-round pick out of Georgia Southern, received some first-team snaps in practice Thursday, and if he does get the start Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, it comes at a perfect time.

Over the next five weeks, the Cowboys face some quarterbacks, starting with Sam Bradford, who have the potential to stretch the defenses with deep passes and lead offenses capable of putting up points.

Entering Thursday, St. Louis, San Diego, Denver, Washington and Philadelphia -- Dallas' next five opponents -- rank in the top 10 in touchdown passes and had each thrown for more than 550 yards through two games.

Pro Football Focus ranked Allen 55th among NFL safeties. Over the first two weeks, he's allowed two touchdown passes, including a 70-yarder in the opener to Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, and gave up four receptions for 62 yards in the Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. Allen does have one interception, though he dropped another potential pick against the Chiefs.

The Cowboys signed Allen to a one-year deal, thinking he would provide a calming veteran presence to pair up with Barry Church. After two weeks, PFF has Church as the second-ranked player at his position.

But the issues with Allen have the Cowboys concerned enough to turn to a rookie.

One member of the Cowboys organization said this about Wilcox: "Athletic, physical, good downhill player with very good ball skills who is a good tackler."

In the preseason, Wilcox led the Cowboys with 20 total tackles, had one interception and two pass breakups. For years, Dallas has searched the draft for a safety, only to encounter disappointment.

In 2012, the Cowboys selected Matt Johnson in the fourth round, but injuries have prevented him from playing in a regular-season game. In 2010, the Cowboys drafted a raw Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round, but he never started an NFL game. In 2009, Michael Hamlin was drafted in the fifth round. He, too, never started a NFL game.

The Cowboys are raising expectations for their veterans -- and will sit them if they play poorly. Bringing Allen off the bench, if that's the case Sunday, is a statement to the rest of the group that coach Jason Garrett is serious about playing younger talented players.

Given the opponents Dallas faces in the next five weeks, the defense can't afford to give up big plays, or come out on the short end of a shootout if the secondary has issues. The Cowboys are trying to fix a small problems before they grow larger -- by moving Allen out and Wilcox in.