This could be the year Barry Church enters the starting lineup.
The Dallas Cowboys are no strangers when it comes to finding successful players on the undrafted free agent market. This has been a method of acquiring talent that has strongly benefited the Cowboys' roster. Tony Romo and Miles Austin are the marquee names, but it may be time to take a closer look at Barry Church.
The safety position hasn't been stable since Darren Woodson retired. It's unfortunate, but since Woodson left the Cowboys have had a very difficult time finding a safety who can be a playmaker and lead the secondary. The lack of draft picks spent on the position makes you wonder if the Cowboys even value the safety position as much as they should. If you look at the last few Super Bowl winners, you will notice those teams had good safety play.
Regardless of how I feel about the recent strategy used by the Cowboys at safety, there is one player who continues to grow into a more complete player every season. Barry Church could be the next success story as an undrafted free agent.
Take the jump and go to "Church"...
Even though Church was highly productive at Toledo, he went undrafted primarily due to his lack of speed and athleticism. He ran a 4.69 40 yard dash at the 2010 NFL Combine, but he did record a 36 inch vertical jump. I would say that you would want a safety to run somewhere in the 4.4-4.5 range, but the 40 yard dash can be a misleading drill when it comes to evaluating football talent.
During the last two seasons, Church has played a big role on special teams and as a hybrid safety/linebacker on defense. He is a versatile player who can line up at linebacker and offer support against the run, but he can also line up at safety and drop back into coverage.
The coaching staff is very high on Barry Church, or they simply wouldn't keep him around. Church continues to grow and improve into a more complete safety, and he has been one of our best players in training camp so far. Early into training camp, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been impressed with what he has seen from Church.
"I’ve been impressed with him," Ryan said of Church. "He had the nice interception today. I’ve always thought he was one of our best players on defense. And right now he’s got a hell of a chance to prove it. He’s taken advantage of these last two days."
So what does Church have to improve on if he wants to become a starting safety? Ryan pointed out that Church must get better in coverage.
"He’s a sharp guy mentally, but he’s got to be able to execute in the deep part of the field," Ryan said.
Speed is a big factor when playing safety, but you must also be able to diagnose what is going on and make quick decisions. If you have fluid hips and make good decisions, then you may be able to overcome the lack of speed. Church looks to be a smart player with a good understanding of the defense. If he continues to enhance his coverage ability, then Church could win the starting job next to Gerald Sensabaugh.
Church agrees that sharpening up his coverage in the deep half of the field will be a determining factor in him winning a starting job.
"I feel like they’re looking for a more confident me," he said, asked what the coaching staff wanted to see out of him in camp. "Just knowing what I’m doing back there and being able to defend the deep half of the field. I feel like if I can do that, I can get myself into the starting lineup."
Having the confidence from the coaching staff and players around him will benefit Church tremendously. A young player who has confidence is going to play the game looser and make fewer mistakes. By no means is Church arrogant or overconfident, he just has a better feel for the defense and his skills as a football player entering this training camp.
Brodney Pool was brought in to compete for a starting job, but I am beginning to wonder if he will even be on the roster when the summer ends.
With Pool failing his conditioning test and Sensabaugh still recovering from knee surgery, Church has been taking first-team reps with the defense. The experience he will gain from that is going to be great for him, and Church knows that it's a big deal.
"To me, it’s a really big deal," said Church, a third-year player signed as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo in 2010. "Just to get to go out there with the 1s, be able to communicate with them, see how they play, feel how they play, it’s a big step for me."
Even though he may lack great speed, Church has the right type of mentality and approach towards playing the safety position in the NFL. He has shown that he can cover tight ends in the past, but I think he is still a work in progress when it comes to developing a better technique in pass coverage. If he can show in the pre-season games that he has grown in the coverage department, then I would have no problem putting him in the starting lineup.
Barry Church is one of the many reasons I am excited about watching the pre-season games this year. Brodney Pool isn't off to a great start in Dallas, and he needs to bring his best every single practice because there are players behind him that are working hard to take his spot. Church is an easy guy to root for with him being an UDFA, but he is also the RKG who is putting in the hard work necessary to make it in the NFL.