J.J. Wilcox was featured prominently on national highlights back on Aug. 3 when he and teammate Dez Bryant got into a bit of a scuffle during the Blue-White Scrimmage at training camp in Oxnard, Calif., but true Cowboys fans were already quite aware of who he was.
One thing some observers took away from the incident was that, yes, the second-year Wilcox was lining up at strong safety with the Cowboys' top defensive unit, helping cover Bryant, one of the league's elite receivers.
Of course, the other obvious conclusion that also emerged is that Wilcox is a highly competitive individual and would accept nothing less than his most inspired effort.
And while no one wants to see teammates fighting, the coaching staff expressed admiration for Wilcox's intense demeanor.
"I really liked the competitive spirit, and that's not all bad for the football team," head coach Jason Garrett said after the incident. "A lot of good competition between the guys, between the sides, and I think we get better because of that. It's never good to have players go to the ground, that's not what we want, but it is good to have them compete, and those two guys are some of the best competitors we have on our team." [embedded_ad]
Secondary coach Jerome Henderson also praised Wilcox for those same traits that should also lead to big plays this season.
"You want to build around players like that, that cut it loose, so to speak," Henderson said. "That's one thing J.J. does. He's not afraid to stick his face in there. He's not afraid to go make a play, to be aggressive. We like that."
Wilcox's secondary coach at Georgia Southern, Jack Curtis, saw the highlights and just smiled.
"I knew when he went to the pro game, with his practice work habits and how he played the game, I knew he was going to catch some eyes," said Curtis, who is also Georgia Southern's defensive coordinator now. "Sometimes he can get a little bit too carried away, but at the same time, that's the thing that makes him great – how hard he plays and the physicalness that he plays with. I don't know that I've ever been around a more competitive athlete."
To become the Cowboys' undisputed starter at strong safety, Wilcox has conquered a number of difficult obstacles.
The biggest hurdle was the fact that he didn't even start playing safety until August 2012, when Curtis helped oversee his transition from running back just prior to his senior season at Georgia Southern. That was just two years ago, so the fact that Wilcox earned the starter's role this summer without much drama is a testament to just his all-around athletic ability and his determination.
"It's going good," said the 6-foot, 217-pound Wilcox, who compiled three tackles in the Cowboys opening game against the 49ers. "I'm locking myself in and been listening to the coaching staff. I have a great sense of pride. I took pride when they didn't draft a safety in the first or second round, so I took the job as mine. That's what I've been attacking and I've been laying it all out on the field."
Henderson has been happy with Wilcox's improved performance so far in 2014.
"J.J. is doing a phenomenal job in everything you ask him to do," Henderson said. "He's got some detail things he's working on to get himself cleaned up, but when he's out here, you see his physicalness, his explosiveness, his passion, and I think it's good for our defense."
It's been an eventful year-plus since Wilcox joined the organization, that's for sure. …