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Position Battles: Who Will Challenge Jeff Heath For The Other Safety Spot?
(Editor’s Note: The NFL Draft has come and gone. Now it’s time to see what the Cowboys have to work with. The roster is nearly full and that should mean a healthy dose of competition – at all positions. The writers of DallasCowboys.com is focusing on each position to find the most intriguing battles as we head into the offseason practices. Today, we complete the series with safety.)
Battle To Watch: Byron Jones is back for his third season, and suddenly the 24-year-old former first-round pick is a veteran leader at free safety. Defensive co-captain Barry Church and his primary backup, J.J. Wilcox, departed in free agency, leaving an open job next to Jones at strong safety.
The Cowboys' subpackages allowed for a rotation of sorts with their safeties last season, but Jeff Heath is the frontrunner for Church's old job. Heath, a fifth-year veteran, had a terrific showing in the divisional-round playoff loss to the Packers, but he’s been more and more productive with increased playing time throughout his career. With just under a fourth of the defensive snaps in 2016, he recorded 20 tackles and an interception and also tied for third in special teams tackles.
“It’s a big opportunity. I’m excited about it,” he said. “I think I’m ready for the opportunity. It’s my fifth year. I’m not the same player I was. I think I’ve gotten better every year. I’m excited and I’m going to do my best.”
Heath will have competition. Last year’s sixth-round pick, Kavon Frazier, played well on special teams as a rookie and will push for more playing time on defense. And the Cowboys clearly feel good about rookie Xavier Woods, or they wouldn’t have traded next year’s fifth-rounder to move up and draft the former Louisiana Tech star near the top of this year’s sixth round. Second-round cornerback Chidobe Awuzie also played some safety at Colorado.
Don’t Forget About: Robert Blanton, who signed a one-year deal on April 20. This addition might have gotten lost in all the pre-draft anticipation, but Blanton brings experience to the suddenly young safety group. A 2012 fifth-round pick by Minnesota, Blanton has made 19 career starts in five seasons with the Vikings and Bills. At the very least, Blanton has an opportunity to become a core special teams contributor for Rich Bisaccia.
Bubble Watch: It’s barely May, so it’s very early in the game. Every player has a chance to win a spot and even the most experienced players will have to earn their spot. But for now, here’s how an unofficial depth chart might look for the players who are officially on the roster.