Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2014 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features safety Barry Church.)
Name: Barry Church
Height/Weight: 6-2 / 218
Experience: 4 seasons
Key stat:Church led the team with 147 tackles, becoming the first safety since Darren Woodson in 1995 to lead the Cowboys' defense.
Contract Status: Signed through 2016.
2013 Impact: Before the 2013 season, the focus of this Cowboys defense was on players like DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr. There was little thought of Barry Church and coming off his Achilles injury, there were those not really sure what kind of impact that he would have once he returned to the field. As the season played out, it was clear each week that Church was the best player on the defense. There wasn't a more consistent player down after down than what Church was able to give Monte Kiffin. The more you studied this defense, the more you realize that it was Church that directly responsible for turning this defense around when it came to creating turnovers. His physical style of play, along with his awareness to rip at the ball was contagious among his teammates. Where Church also made improvements in his game was in his versatility. Church looked comfortable playing upfront in the box to handle the run but there were also snaps where he was able to show range as a single high safety in coverage. What was evident, no matter where Church was lined up in this scheme, he was going to be around the ball. There was not a better tackler when it came to getting ball carriers on the ground. Where Church was surprisingly at his best is when he had to make the open field tackle in space. There had always been a hint of stiffness to his game and these are the types of plays that expose safeties in whether they are play makers or not. Where Church really opened my eyes was with his ability versus the Vikings, when he made several key stops against Adrian Peterson in space. We all understand how difficult Peterson is to bring down one-on-one but Church was in position to make the play, much like he was during the entire 2013 season.
Where He Fits: With Rod Marinelli as the new defensive coordinator, I have a feeling that you will see Barry Church in more of a role of that down safety helping against the run with some coverage responsibilities as well. Marinelli will play to the strengths of his defensive players and what he has seen from Church is that putting him at or near the line will be where he is the most productive as a player. What would be ideal is if they could find a true free safety to be paired with him to allow him to stay as that forward player. Marinelli knows that he needs play makers in order for this defense to be successful and in Barry Church, he will put him in position to be that type of guy once again.
This is one of the more consistent players on the Cowboys' defense. I think he's the best tackler on the team – proven by his team-leading 147, and he seems to be fast enough to get around the [embedded_ad] football. I remember last offseason, when he was coming back from an Achilles injury, Church told me his goals for the 2013 season. While I thought they would be more modest and focus on coming back to play a full season or starting all 16 games, Church said his individual goal was to make the Pro Bowl this season. Obviously, helping the team get back to the playoffs is the ultimate goal for Church and all players but on a personal level, getting to Hawaii was on high on the list. While he didn't make it, Church was one of the top vote-getters by the fans. He's not there yet of course, but if the defense can get better up front and perhaps alongside of him, Church can get over the hump and reach his goal to become one of the best in the game.