Dallas Cowboys Safety Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Barry Church
There were plenty questions coming into the Dallas Cowboys 2013 season of how Barry Church would play coming off the Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 3 of 2012. At this point, Church and his injury appear to be holding up well.
What we fail to realize about Church is despite coming into his fourth season in the league, he had only made three starts at safety and all of those came last season. From what we’ve seen from Church through 10 games in 2013, there has been some hit-and-miss play – something you’d expect from a player who doesn’t have a great deal of experience.
Where Church has always been his best is as that physical player that is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there to make a tackle. But with this type of play comes those plays where he is too aggressive and finds himself in trouble when he takes a bad angle on his way to the ball like he did in the Lions game on the long pass to Calvin Johnson.
For Church, each snap has been a learning experience for him in his progression as an NFL safety. There are days where he has looked rough but compared to what has happened this season with the other safeties, he has managed to hold things together.
Need More From: J.J. Wilcox
It’s hard to say that you need more from a player who, at times for a rookie, has played very well, but that is the case of J.J. Wilcox. It has been three games since Wilcox suffered a knee sprain during practice getting ready for the Lions game.
In his absence, Jeff Heath has had to make those starts. Heath has had his share of struggles and the New Orleans game was by far his most disappointing showing, but this is not to say that Wilcox hasn’t had his share of missed tackles on third down as well.
Both of these rookies are trying their best and that is really the main problem — they are still only rookies. The word is that Wilcox should return after the bye in preparation for the Giants and that will allow Heath to go back to work in his role as a core special teamer.
Where this team needs more from Wilcox is in those plays like we saw from him in the Philadelphia game, where he showed range to knock the ball away from DeSean Jackson to save a touchdown, and being in position when the ball gets knocked in the air by Jason Avant for a potential interception.
Wilcox has proven in his young career that he has a knack for the big play around the ball, which is something that defense desperately needs.
Six-Game Forecast: Safeties huge in overall success of this defense
The play of the cornerbacks would be the key for this defense going forward. Let’s believe that will be the case, but how these safeties play in the remaining games will also tell a story.
As far as experience, it is a very young group with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray and Jakar Hamilton. For this club, Darren Woodson is not going to come walking through that door to save the day, so it will be up to this group to find the right combination and make plays when their number is called.
What we have learned about the safety play in this Monte Kiffin scheme is that the safeties are huge in the overall success of the defense. Whether it is Church playing as the eighth man in the box or Wilcox showing range deep, this group has to make plays. There are games ahead where the ball will once again be going down the field. Can these young safeties handle that?
There have been moments this season where they have been up to that challenge, but we’ve also seen some poor play as well, which has cost this defense far too often.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
2013-2014 COWBOYS ROSTER: Miami Dolphins sign David Arkin from Dallas practice squad | Injured defensive tackle Marvin Austin released
The 2011 fourth-round pick from Missouri State was released by the team on Oct. 26 to make room for safety Jakar Hamilton on the 53-man roster. Arkin then returned to the Cowboys’ practice squad two days later.
Arkin was inactive for six of his seven games this year on the 53-man roster and never played in a regular season game for the Cowboys. He appeared to be taking strides this preseason from where he was at in past years.
Given the recent goings-on in Miami and the suspension of offensive lineman Richie Incognito, the Dolphins are looking for all the depth they can get.
The Dallas Cowboys also parted ways today with defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who was waived/injured.
Austin signed with the Cowboys on Oct. 21 and played that weekend against the Lions, finishing with a tackle. He was unable to push through a back injury Sunday against the Vikings that bothered him in practice late in the week.
2013-2014 COWBOYS ROSTER: Dallas RG Brian Waters placed on IR | Micah Pellerin promoted from practice squad
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have officially placed guard Brian Waters on injured reserve after a week of evaluation.
Waters suffered a strained rib, a hyperextended knee and a torn triceps in last weekend’s loss to Detroit, with the triceps injury proving to be the most severe.
The veteran guard, who was halfway through his 13th NFL season, sought out several secondary opinions that would allow him to continue playing this year, but those were of no avail.
Mackenzy Bernadeau will start in place of Waters on Sunday against Minnesota. Bernadeau started in all 16 games last season, and he was the starter for the first three weeks of 2013 before Waters replaced him in Week 4.
It remains to be seen what Waters will do going forward. The Cowboys signed him to a one-year contract just five days before the season opener against the New York Giants. The six-time Pro Bowler played to his lofty reputation in five starts this season, but he will be 37 by the start of the 2014 campaign.
In Waters’ place, the Cowboys called up defensive back Micah Pellerin from the practice squad. This marks the fourth week in a row the Cowboys have activated a practice squad player. They called up linebacker Cameron Lawrence on Oct. 11, defensive end Jason Vega on Oct. 18 and safety Jakar Hamilton on Oct. 26.
Pellerin was a standout for the team in training camp after joining the practice squad at the tail end of 2012. He has experience playing both safety and cornerback, though he has played primarily as a corner during his time with Dallas.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett hinted on Friday that Pellerin would get the nod, as the team will be without Morris Claiborne for Sunday’s game against the Vikings. Claiborne injured his hamstring in the loss to the Lions.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys made the decision to cut David Arkin on Saturday because they needed the roster spot. But they haven’t completely given up on their three-year investment.
The Cowboys decided to bring back Arkin on the practice squad today. Arkin has only been active for eight games in his career but has yet to play a single snap, which gives him practice-squad eligibility despite this being his third season with the club.
The Cowboys cut Arkin to make room for rookie safety Jakar Hamilton, who played because of an injury to J.J. Wilcox. Hamilton will likely stay up on the roster with Wilcox’s status uncertain and now Barry Church has a hamstring injury.
“We got to the point where we needed a safety based on our safety situation,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “And that was the one we felt we could make that move on the 11th hour and hopefully he can get past through and we can bring him back and put him on our practice roster and we’ve invested in him and we do like him.”
Garrett was asked if he was disappointed in Arkin’s progress, considering he was a fourth-round pick in 2011 and has yet to contribute in the regular season.
“There’s probably nobody on our football team who works harder and is more committed than David Arkin,” Garrett said. “He’s the right kind of guy and he’s working at it and he’s getting better. I think he has improved over the last couple of years and that’s why we’re happy to get him back and put him back on the practice roster and continue that development.”
During the last two training camps and preseasons, Arkin received more practice reps than any other linemen the last two years. With an abundance of injuries on the line, Arkin has played both at guard and center. This past summer, he was mostly at guard. He started the first preseason game at right guard, then started the third and fifth games at left guard.
The year before, he started the first three preseason games at center.
IRVING, Texas – A fourth-round pick in 2011, David Arkin never played an offensive snap for the Dallas Cowboys.
Now it seems as if they never will. The Cowboys officially waived Arkin on Saturday to make room for rookie safety Jakar Hamilton, who was signed off the practice squad. Hamilton will travel to Detroit and likely make his NFL debut with starter J.J. Wilcox (knee) ruled out for Sunday’s game with the Lions. Jeff Heath is expected to make his first career start while Hamilton and veteran Danny McCray will serve as the backups.
The Cowboys are high on Hamilton, who even had a fifth-round grade on their draft board. When he went undrafted, they immediately signed him as a priority rookie free agent. He has spent the first seven weeks of the season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.
If it works out of the Cowboys, Arkin could likely take Hamilton’s place there. Arkin has practice-squad eligibility and could get re-signed if he’s not claimed off waivers.
The Cowboys have been patient with the development of Arkin, who played various positions in college at Missouri State. Arkin came to Dallas and has played both guard and center.
During training camp last year, he started three preseason games at center. He started two games at guard this year.
But when it came to playing in the game, the Cowboys have not put him out there on offense. Through the first seven games this year, he was inactive in all but one week.
Without Arkin, the Cowboys are down to just nine offensive linemen. They’ve usually been keeping only seven active for the games with Mackenzy Bernadeau serving as the backup at guard and center and Jermey Parnell as the backup tackle. Last week, Phil Costa was active in Philly but has typically spent game days on the sidelines with Arkin and reserve tackle Darrion Weems.
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys rookie safety J.J. Wilcox is arguably coming off the best game of his young career last week in Philadelphia. But it’s unlikely he’ll be able to follow head coach Jason Garrett’s motto and “stack good games together” when the team travels to Detroit.
Wilcox will likely have to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Lions after suffering a sprained right knee, which required an MRI Thursday afternoon. Wilcox said he had a sprained MCL, an injury he suffered on his left knee in college at Georgia Southern.
“It feel better this time than that injury,” Wilcox said. “I’m disappointed, but that’s football. That’s the way it goes.”
Wilcox suffered the injury late in today’s practice during red-zone drills when he came down awkwardly after competing for a pass with tight end Gavin Escobar.
Wilcox agreed he likely wouldn’t be able to play this week against the Detroit Lions and said it’s too early to tell if the Nov. 2 game with Minnesota Vikings is a possibility. But the rookie definitely perked up when asked about a possible return for the Saints game on Nov. 10.
“I don’t know just yet, but I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” Wilcox said. “I just have to work hard to get back soon.”
A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilcox has been improving each week, and made a key play in last Sunday’s game against the Eagles.
“I really felt like I was coming on,” Wilcox said. “I’ve always had a lot [of confidence] but I know I’ve gotten better and felt like I was starting to really help the team. So hopefully this won’t be a big setback.”
If Wilcox doesn’t play, the Cowboys will likely start rookie Jeff Heath, who is battling an injury sustained on his right forearm last week. He said the issue won’t keep him out of practice or the game.
“I might wear something on it but it won’t be anything major,” Heath said of possible brace. “It’ll be more like a tight wrap.”
The Cowboys also have Danny McCray, who is one of the team’s better special teams contributors. The club could add a fourth safety – possibly rookie Jakar Hamilton, who is currently on the practice squad.
Wilcox is currently seventh on the team with 28 tackles. He took over as a starter in Week 3 against the Rams and started five straight games, making a career-high nine tackles against Denver.
He won the starting job outright from Will Allen, who was eventually waived. Wilcox had a stellar training camp and preseason despite having to miss nearly a week in the middle of camp to be with his ailing mother, who passed away in August.
Wilcox still returned to play in the last two preseason games and got a few snaps in the first two regular-season games before the coaching staff made him a starter. Wilcox has had two interceptions nullified this year – one by penalty against the Rams and the other by the replay booth last week.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys released safety Will Allen this afternoon.
Allen, a 10-year veteran, signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys during free agency this past spring after a three-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He started for the team at safety through training camp and the first two games of the regular season, but he was eventually replaced by rookie J.J. Wilcox ahead of the Cowboys’ Week 3 game against St. Louis on Sept. 22.
The roster currently sits at 52, as the Cowboys didn’t make any immediate moves to fill Allen’s spot. The team might elevate a player from the practice squad later in the week depending on injury concerns.
The Cowboys’ practice squad currently features two safeties in Jakar Hamilton and Micah Pellerin, should they decide to bolster the depth in their defensive backfield.
Looking forward, the Cowboys also are still hopeful for the potential return of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who is eligible to return from the Physically Unable to Perform list next week. If Ratliff is able to return, the team would need to free up a roster spot for him.
During his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Allen notched nine total tackles in five games with three passes defensed and an interception. His coverage came under fire in the season opening win against the New York Giants, which saw the Cowboys surrender 450 passing yards, though Allen did grab one of three interceptions of Eli Manning in that game.
He was also called for holding during a fourth quarter kick return in Sunday’s 51-48 loss to Denver.
Since he was on the Cowboys’ Week 1 roster, all of the money on Allen’s $905,000 contract is guaranteed.
Allen spent the first six seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected him 111th overall out of Ohio State in the 2004 NFL Draft. He spent five of his six seasons in Tampa with current Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who was the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2008.
IRVING, Texas – For those upset the Dallas Cowboys cut quarterback Alex Tanney because they feared he would be claimed by another team, breathe a sigh of relief. Tanney cleared waivers and was signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad.
Wide receivers Danny Coale and Tim Benford will be on the practice squad for the second straight season. The Cowboys also added guard Ray Dominguez, defensive end Jason Vega, cornerback Micah Pellerin, safety Jakar Hamilton and linebacker Cameron Lawrence to the practice squad.
The Cowboys had hoped to re-sign Brandon Magee to the practice squad, but the linebacker was claimed by Cleveland. The Dallas Cowboys are no longer on the hook for the $70,000 guarantee they had on his contract.
OXNARD, Calif. – Just a little clearing of the notebook following Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders in the second preseason game.
— In the amount of snaps that DeMarcus Ware played the other night, he was very productive but the best player on the field for the Cowboys defense was Sean Lee. If there is concern of how he would bounce back from his injury he suffered last season, well put those thoughts to rest. Lee was in midseason form with his reads, adjustments and the manner in which he attacked the ball.
The Raiders offensive line does not touch him the entire opportunity he was in the game and his blitz that caused the first turnover of the game was textbook. His quickness and agility was outstanding but the physical way in which he finished the play was even better.
— Jason Hatcher continues to impress in the way he is going about his business in this camp and in the way he played in this game. Hatcher has been able to handle a steady diet of playing in this scheme.
He not only has played with tremendous quickness and agility but his power has shown to be better as well. I worried about him getting off blocks consistently but now that he doesn’t have to two gap blockers and he can attack the gap, it’s a much better fit for him. He has also shown the ability to understand what Rod Marinelli is asked him to do technique wise. He is better with his hands and you really see it when he rushes the passer.
— Some were expecting a big game from Dwayne Harris but instead, got it from Cole Beasley. Every time I want to doubt Beasley or question his roster spot on this club, he reminds me of the unique skill set in which he plays with.
The Raiders had no answer in how to deal with his quickness and his route running ability. He was money on third downs and his touchdown in the red zone was also a reminder that despite his height, he can still make plays down there. He is a confident and reliable receiver that when put in the right situations can make those catches when no one else will.
Instead of thinking about all the things he can’t do like play consistently on the outside and by the way, he is getting better at that, we need to concentrate on what he does well and that is the reason he will be in this wide receiver mix. If he can give you something in the return game its a plus but there has to be packages that Bill Callahan can do to get him the ball because he has proven he can make plays.
–As much as I want to have concerns about that breakdown in kickoff coverage against the Raiders on Friday night, I am aware that it’s about the opportunity to evaluate players and not for what the scheme looks like.
Still it was a great example of how important that these teams are when young guys like Jakar Hamilton, Kendial Lawrence, and Jared Green are trying to make the team or get noticed by the coaches. Special team are about effort and desire but also playing with smarts. The Greg Jenkins return came after the Joseph Randle had put the Cowboys ahead and though the defense held, the field position was in the favor of the Raiders who recovered the muffed punt from B.W. Webb and kicked the game winning field goal.
But focusing on the kickoff coverage, Green was knocked into Lawrence who both went to the ground. Hamilton was doubled at the point and couldn’t release off the blocks. As the ball came down the hash, two players were on the ground and Webb was widen, which caused a huge crease which Jenkins was able to take advantage of for the return. It really was nice execution by the Raiders on the return but for some young players on this team trying to get noticed, it was the wrong way to get noticed.
As we sit just a few short days from the opening of training camp in Oxnard, on top of the depth chart for the safety position are the names of Barry Church and the veteran Will Allen. The names that are below those of Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jakar Hamilton.
It’s not a group at this point that would make you forget the names of the greats that have played here before but it’s a group that has a great deal of potential.
This coaching staff has the upmost respect for Allen and his body of work through the years which is why you see him a top this depth chart. I studied Allen myself in games last season for the Steelers when he made some injury starts against Cowboys’ division foes, New York, Philadelphia and Washington and he was more than solid. His play was steady and sure. Where Allen has an advantage over the others is in his experience which is a nice trait to have.
Over the past season, despite the fact that he was dealing with an injury, I still had a great deal of faith in Matt Johnson and what he could bring to this squad and I still believe that but the player that has drawn my most interest, is J.J. Wilcox.
When I first observed him on tape at Georgia Southern, I was shocked that he had only played the position for one season. He didn’t play like a small college player. You could see in his awareness and passion for the position and that he was a natural. When you watched him play, you saw a player that loves the game. A player that was not afraid or scared to mix it up when called on.
Where there were some concerns in my view was how much coverage that he actually played and would his movement skills translate in order to function in this scheme. There are times where the safety is asked to take the middle of the field and react to the sideline to help the corner.
In OTA’s and minicamp practices, you could see that he understood his responsibilities. He was capable of playing with range. One of the first things you notice about his game, is that he is always around the football run or pass. There were times in the practices where he was playing in the short middle of the field and he was able to read and adjust to the routes not only to knock balls down but secure interceptions as well.
Wilcox doesn’t play like a guy that lacks experience for the position. I can only recall one time in the several practices where Jerome Henderson had to correct him on the angle that he took to the ball. With Wilcox, you didn’t see the mental busts and mistakes or confusion that goes with a rookie safety. The mental side of the game is where I thought he might struggle the most because when they put on the pads that will not be an issue at all. He is more than willing to light up a ball carrier when given the opportunity.
I thought it was an outstanding move by this front office to go out and try to protect itself by signing Will Allen but there are some talented players behind him which is a good thing depth wise but the one that might be the most talented is J.J. Wilcox. I do not see J.J. Wilcox waiting around to play in this defense. He has already picked up things very easily that I thought he would have struggled with and that is a positive sign.
It is right that the coaches have put Allen in the spot that he is on the depth chart because of his experience but the more that we see Wilcox practice and the more opportunities that he gets, it will be harder for these coaches not to line him up next to Barry Church much more sooner than later.
Trying to find future stars in the later rounds of the NFL Draft is a tough task, but if Scott Wright’s sleeper list is any indication, the Dallas Cowboys could have a head start on the competition.
Wright composed a lengthy list of 95 potential sleepers in the 2013 draft class, and a pair of Cowboys draft picks are right near the top.
William and Mary cornerback B.W. Webb is No. 4 on the list, earning a 2nd- or 3rd-round grade from Wright. The Cowboys snagged Webb in the 4th round on Saturday.
Right behind Webb is Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox at No. 5, who the Cowboys took in the 3rd round. Wilcox is a strong athlete, but his stock wasn’t especially high because he only played one year at safety in college.
One other new Cowboys made the cut on Wright’s list. South Carolina State safety Jakar Hamilton, who the Cowboys signed as an undrafted free agent, came in at No. 48. Hamilton was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs, but wound up transferring to South Carolina State in 2011.
See list below