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Position Series: Staying Healthy A Priority At Safety

(Editor's Note: This is the 11th of a 12-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2013 season. Today we examine the safeties.)

Pressing Matters:The safety position was a bit of a carousel ride next to Gerald Sensabaugh. The starter every week was based in large part on who was healthy enough to step on the field. Barry Church was the answer at safety to start the season, and when he went down, the Cowboys had to piece that position together the rest of the year. The most pressing matter entering the new season is figuring out what two players are best suited to start in Monte Kiffin's defense.  Church will be coming off his Achilles injury, and Matt Johnson never got healthy enough to demonstrate what he could do. It's possible both of those players could be in the mix next season, or the Cowboys could look to the draft to figure out that spot. Danny McCray is now a restricted free agent, while Charlie Peprah and Eric Frampton are unrestricted free agents.

2012 Evaluation: The injury to Church halted the ceiling for the safety group. The Cowboys were confident enough in what he could provide that they got rid of Brodney Pool before the season began. Church was really coming on and looked like a completely different player. His season-ending Achilles injury against Tampa Bay in Week 3 was rather devastating. Sensabaugh had to pick up the slack in Church's absence, but he gritted through his own aches and pains throughout the year. The Cowboys held onto Johnson and did their best not to send him to injured reserve after his many hamstring injuries throughout the year, but eventually they had to bite the bullet and get him ready for next season. McCray and Frampton, were both mostly special teams players, had to work into the mix at safety. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan even put cornerback Brandon Carr back there in an effort to put the best players on the field.

Need More From … : While the Cowboys could use more from Sensabaugh, being that he's the lone experienced veteran at the position and played 15 games without an interception, the answer here is Johnson. Sensabaugh still managed to find his way onto the field almost every week despite dealing with injuries and made some noticeable plays, including a hit on Jermaine Gresham to jar the ball loose on a would-be touchdown, a crushing hit on Victor Cruz and a difficult open-field tackle on Trent Richardson that prevented a first down. Meanwhile, Johnson never got healthy enough to play in a game. The fourth-round pick would have been part of the game plan if he could have avoided injury or not re-aggravated his hamstring injuries. He'll likely be part of the mix next season if he can stay on the field.

Position Analysis:

Gerald Sensabaugh –Gritted through a lot of aches and pains this season and could be counted on consistently to take the field every week. Didn't make a ton of game-changing plays, but he did provide some key hits and stops throughout the season. He's the lone experienced player in the group.

Barry Church –The offseason and preseason star didn't get much time to showcase his development this season before a season-ending injury. How he's performed in his rehab and whether or not he has the same burst after the injury will determine his playing time next season. The Cowboys gave him a contract extension while he was hurt.

Matt Johnson –Couldn't come back in time from injury to contribute this season. The Cowboys didn't want to put him on injured reserve, but eventually had no other choice. They like what they saw in brief spurts from him, and he should get time on defense next year. * *

Danny McCray –Became a major contributor at safety after the injury to Church. Registered 71 tackles but got beat deep in coverage more as the season progressed. He's a restricted free agent.

Eric Frampton –Signed with the Cowboys in September after getting released from the Vikings and is now a free agent. The special teams player ended up contributing at safety and getting more and more time defensively as the season progressed.

Charlie Peprah – The Dallas native joined the team in October as injuries at the position forced the Cowboys to look elsewhere. Peprah intercepted a pass but only played in five games by year's end. He's now a free agent.

Micah Pellerin –Joined the practice squad in December. The safety from Hampton adds more depth at a position that could use it. *   *

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