IRVING, Texas – The loss of safety Barry Church to a serious Achilles' injury is a devastating blow.
It hurts for Church, a former undrafted free agent who earned his way into a starting spot in training camp. It hurts for the team, which has been in need of a capable safety for years. It even hurts for the media, whom Church has always been respectful to. The former communications major at Toledo would dutifully enter the locker room, win or lose, and answer questions as fairly, candidly and accurately as possible.
When he suffered a quad contusion against the Seahawks, he described exactly what the issue was, how he's combatting it and how he planned to play against the Buccaneers, which he did until suffering a likely season-ending injury. When the game ended, he didn't disappear. He stood at his locker, on crutches, to deliver and explain the grim news.
If there's anyone on the Cowboys just as willing to make himself available, it's cornerback Brandon Carr, who was the unanticipated replacement at safety for a majority of the game after Church went down.
The Cowboys defense was stifling against a Buccaneers passing attack that troubled the Giants a week prior, when quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Dallas entered the home opener knowing it'd be without safety Gerald Sensabaugh, but it didn't anticipate losing both its starters.
That's when Carr, the Cowboys' premier free agent pickup at cornerback, began rotating in at safety more than adequately, along with Mana Silva.
Had Mike Jenkins not been available, it's unlikely the Cowboys could have committed to shifting Carr to that spot.
After major offseason shoulder surgery, Jenkins wasn't ready in the preseason. Though many expected him to be able to return by the opener, it became clear his status early on was unknown. The former first-round pick suddenly seemed expendable with the additions of Carr and 2012 first-round selection Morris Claiborne.
Jenkins was used sparingly against the Seahawks, but when Church went down against the Bucs, the Cowboys began deploying Jenkins on the outside. He didn't disappoint or show any obvious adverse effects to his time off in the preseason.
While his stats only list him with one tackle and one pass deflection, Jenkins played a significant role in pass defense, helping to hold Vincent Jackson without a catch until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Jenkins (5-10) recorded his pass deflection on a 1-on-1 jump ball with Jackson (6-5), falling down on his shoulder and jumping right back up.
The cornerback's presence allowed the Cowboys to get creative in the way they utilized their many defensive backs. Had Jenkins not been around, maybe Orlando Scandrick shifts more to safety, in which case the depth at cornerback is lost.
Instead, a healthy Jenkins allowed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to install a few different looks, including the one with Carr at safety. Whether or not Carr continues to shift into that role in future weeks, it's now clear why the Cowboys never quit on Jenkins. And it could pay dividends.