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Position Focus: Safeties Still Need Plenty Of Seasoning
(Editor’s Note: Over the next two weeks, football analyst Bryan Broaddus will take a closer look at each position, highlighting the standouts and players who need more production. Today, we will focus on the safety position.)
Top Performer: Barry Church
There were plenty questions coming into the 2013 season of how Barry Church would play coming off the Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 3 of 2012 against the Buccaneers. Church and his injury appear to be holding up well.
What we fail to realize about Church is despite coming into his fourth season in the league, he had only made three starts at safety and all of those came last season. From what I have seen from Church through 10 games in 2013, there has been some hit-and-miss play – something you’d expect from a player who doesn’t have a great deal of experience.
Where Church has always been his best is as that physical player that is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there to make a tackle. But with this type of play comes those plays where he is too aggressive and finds himself in trouble when he takes a bad angle on his way to the ball like he did in the Lions game on the long pass to Calvin Johnson.
For Church, each snap has been a learning experience for him in his progression as an NFL safety. There are days where he has looked rough but compared to what has happened this season with the other safeties, he has managed to hold things together.
Need More From: J.J. Wilcox
It’s hard to say that you need more from a player who, at times for a rookie, has played very well, but that is the case of J.J. Wilcox. It has been three games since Wilcox suffered a knee sprain during practice getting ready for the Lions game.
In his absence, Jeff Heath has had to make those starts. Heath has had his share of struggles and the New Orleans game was by far his most disappointing showing, but this is not to say that Wilcox hasn’t had his share of missed tackles on third down as well.
Both of these rookies are trying their best and that is really the main problem -- they are still only rookies. The word is that Wilcox should return after the bye in preparation for the Giants and that will allow Heath to go back to work in his role as a core special teamer.
Where this team needs more from Wilcox is in those plays like we saw from him in the Philadelphia game, where he showed range to knock the ball away from DeSean Jackson to save a touchdown, and being in position when the ball gets knocked in the air by Jason Avant for a potential interception.
Wilcox has proven in his young career that he has a knack for the big play around the ball, which is something that defense desperately needs.
On Tuesday I wrote that I thought the play of the cornerbacks would be the key for this defense going forward. I still believe that will be the case, but how these safeties play in the remaining games will also tell a story.
As far as experience, it is a very young group with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray and Jakar Hamilton. For this club, Darren Woodson is not going to come walking through that door to save the day, so it will be up to this group to find the right combination and make plays when their number is called.
What we have learned about the safety play in this Monte Kiffin scheme is that the safeties are huge in the overall success of the defense. Whether it is Church playing as the eighth man in the box or Wilcox showing range deep, this group has to make plays. What I worry about is that there are games ahead where the ball will once again be going down the field and can these safeties handle that?
I have seen moments this season where they have been up to that challenge, but I have also seen some poor play as well, which has cost this defense far too often.