Position Series: Next To Church, Starting Job Still Wide Open

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*(Editor's Note: This is the last on an 11-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. Today's piece focuses on the safety position.) *

What's the Deal?

The Cowboys feel like they've got one of the safety spots solidified with Barry Church, who is coming off a breakthrough season in which he had over 100 tackles. But one of the more competitive battles for a starting job will be the other spot. To start off, second-year pro J.J. Wilcox will likely take the first-team reps to see if he can build off a promising rookie season that saw his share of ups and downs. Don't forget Jeff Heath started over him towards the end of the season and Heath will likely have his say in the matter as well. Matt Johnson needs to


stay healthy to even be in the discussion but this team obviously likes his upside enough to keep him around. Jakar Hamilton and rookie Ahmad Dixon will likely have a chance to sneak into the mix as well. 

Still Need to Find Out:

This team needs to find out a lot of things about the safeties, but one of the biggest uncertainties surrounds Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2012. Injuries have been overwhelming for him so far in his career as he not only has yet to play in a regular-season game, but he hasn't even finished a preseason game without injury. There's a reason the Cowboys drafted him and a reason they're not giving up on him. Johnson was limited somewhat in the offseason because of hamstring injuries but it was more precautionary than anything else. If there's one player who absolutely must avoid the injury bug in camp, it's Johnson.

Numbers Game: 

The overall number of safeties kept on the roster will be interesting, especially since there are so many young guys on the roster. The Cowboys don't want to give up on players such as Johnson, Heath, Hamilton and even Ahmad Dixon. That doesn't included projected starters such as Church and Wilcox. Who knows if a guy like Ryan Smith from Auburn can work his way in the equation as well? The safety position just has a bunch of promising players and even if they go long and keep five guys at safety, that still pushes out a player or too that has some potential. [embedded_ad]

Ready to Breakout?The Cowboys are hoping that player is Wilcox, who gets the chance to start from the jump. But don't be surprised if Hamilton gets himself a few more reps. He started his career at Georgia before transferring to South Carolina State. So he's not exactly a small-school standout with the ability to start as a freshman in the SEC. Athletically he's as good as any other safety on this team. After a learning year as a rookie, Hamilton might have what it takes to compete for a starting job, especially if he can showcase his coverage skills.

Battle To Watch:

Barry Church is going to start at one of the spots but who is playing opposite him is anyone's guess. JJ Wilcox is currently running with the first team with Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath right on his heals. Wilcox has lost weight and is playing with better movement along with a better understanding of what his responsibilities are. There has never been a question of his desire to get into those piles.

Last Time Out:

For a look back at how the defensive tackles on the roster performed last year, click here.

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