OXNARD, Calif. - For two years, Barry Church has been paying his dues. While it's still early in this year's training camp, Church is hoping this year it will all pay off.
From an undrafted rookie in 2010 to a special teams contributor and key reserve player on defense last year, it appears Church is on his way for an even bigger role in 2012.
In the first full-padded practice of camp, Church was impressive, playing a number of first-team reps.
"I felt really good," says Church. "I haven't had the pads on since like Week 14 of last year after hurting my shoulder. It felt good to get a couple of pops in there on my fellow teammates. I'm looking forward to keeping it going."
The coaching staff will be assessing the strong safety position throughout training camp. Veteran Brodney Pool and rookie Matt Johnson will also have chances to make their cases. Neither Pool nor Johnson practiced in full pads Wednesday. Pool only passed his conditioning test earlier that morning and was held out for the afternoon practice while Johnson was just taken off the PUP, the training staff not wanting to rush him back on the field.
While Church certainly took advantage of their absence on Wednesday, he's still looking forward to seeing them on the field.
"Competition brings the best out of everybody," says Church. "Pool's going to come back soon and the competition is going to peak."
Church explains that he and Pool are certainly friendly teammates, but they are both aware that only one of them will get a starting job.
"We're definitely looking at each other as competition, but we're definitely helping each other out as well," Church said. "If I miss a call, he's right there to help me out."
Gerald Sensabaugh, who seems to have the other starting safety job secured, shared his thoughts about the position battle going on next to him.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen," says Sensabaugh. "We've got a good battle going with Barry Church and (Brodney) Pool. They're both really good players. We've got some other guys in the wings working hard to get in there, too. We'll see what happens. They'll put the best players out there."
In 2010, Church was on the Cowboys' draft board but slipped into rookie free agency after seven rounds. The Cowboys were excited to land the former Toledo standout who made All-MAC first-team honors each of his four seasons with the Rockets.
Right away, Church turned some heads in the preseason as a rookie. He made an 84-yard fumble return that led to a touchdown against the Chargers. In that game, he also made two tackles near the goal-line as the Cowboys inserted him in a goal-line defense. Church finished 2010 fourth on the squad with 16 special teams tackles.
Last year, Church had a more prominent role on defense, registering 24 tackles, including two for loss. The Cowboys used him in a nickel linebacker position for a couple of games when Sean Lee was banged up with a wrist injury.
Church has taken a road of hard work to get to where he is now. He is hoping that this year it all translates into a breakout season.
"Hopefully my hard work does pay off and I can become the starter, but right now I'm just taking it day by day."