IRVING, Texas – There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the torn Achilles injury was considered one of the most treacherous of medical setbacks for NFL players.
It's still a very serious injury, especially for skill players who rely on their speed and quickness. The rehab is grueling and tiresome, often leaving players to wonder if they'll ever return to full speed. In the past, just returning to form by the start of the next season was a realistic goal for a player with a torn Achilles.
So what does Barry Church have in mind for the 2013 season?
"Me personally, I would like to make the Pro Bowl," Church said. "I feel like I was on my way last year before I got injured. This year, I feel like if I could withstand the whole season, I have a good chance."
Rather lofty goals for a player with four career starts in his three-year career, which began as an undrafted free agent from Toledo back in 2010. Throw in the fact that Church is recovering from an Achilles setback he sustained in Week 3 last September and it might seem farfetched for Church's season to end in Hawaii.
But that's the kind of confidence Church has in himself.
"I just always taught myself to think big and stay positive, and work hard," Church said. "If you do that, you're giving yourself a chance."
Church doesn't have to worry about the "working hard" part. Getting through the rehab process is demanding. But he credits the Cowboys' rehab team, including associate athletic trainer Britt Brown, who is the director of rehabilitation, for pushing him to his furthest limits.
"It's been a grind. Me and Sean Lee and Danny Coale, we were going at it hard," Church said. "(Brown) would push us, but push us to the right amount to where we wouldn't further injure ourselves, but over the curve to get us back to our normal running style. He pushed us hard, but it was definitely worth it."
Despite the injury, Church was able to return to action this summer for the OTAs and minicamps. He called himself about "95 percent" recovered in late May. But he expects to be at full strength during training camp and doesn't foresee being limited in Oxnard.
During his rehab, Church said the success stories of fellow defensive backs Leon Hall and LaRon Landry have been motivational in his return. Hall, a cornerback for the Bengals, suffered his torn Achilles in the middle of the 2011 season but returned to play in 14 games last year.
Landry had two torn Achilles injuries and returned to have a Pro Bowl season for the Jets in 2012.
As an organization, the Cowboys have never showed anything but confidence in Church, who actually received a rare contract extension in the middle of his rehab. His new deal is now a five-year, $12.9 million contract, paying the safety about $2.58 million per season.
While Church is listed as the starting free safety, he admitted the Cowboys play an interchangeable style that has him learning both strong and free safety spots. And while he knows there will be a healthy competition on the opposite side between Will Allen, Matt Johnson and perhaps rookie J.J. Wilcox, Church said he hasn't and won't remove himself from compete-mode.
"I feel like I'm always competing," Church said. "It feels weird to look over and see a different body every time. (But) every time I see a new guy come in, I say, 'it's your time to take advantage of it. It's your time to shine. Take it and run with it.' That's what they told me coming in."
Church has definitely taken advantage of his opportunity. Now it's time to see if he can run toward his next goal – one that would put him in Hawaii at the end of the season.