Barry Church came to training camp last year with a mindset. He knew that after paying his dues on the Dallas Cowboys and working hard, that he would have a chance to earn a starting job in the secondary at one of the safety positions. Sure enough his play was so good, it forced the Cowboys to release the recently signed Brodney Pool. After standing out in every single practice, the team never really had a choice but to cut the aging and underachieving veteran in favor of the upcoming young player.
Once again give credit to the scouting department. After going undrafted, Church was another player that was sought after and pursued. Dallas has been very fortunate to land talented players after the draft, but when they continue to find gems, does it really seem like luck? They find legit talent on this market because they know what to look for.
Last summer was all about our new safety. After Pool was released, Barry took the starting gig and ran with it. His development was really something to appreciate whenever he took the field. Safety is one of the hardest positions in the NFL, at least in my opinion anyway. It's impressive to watch a larger safety (6'2, 218ibs) that went undrafted not only excel against the run, but Church was also very good in coverage.
His leadership qualities were also clear by his demeanor on the field and his ability to be vocal and get the other defensive players lined up. After spending a couple of years in the 3-4 defense that the Cowboys ran, Church gained valuable experience and became increasingly comfortable because he had a better understanding of what he was doing.
Over the years, the Cowboys have suffered from poor safety play. It was a welcomed sight to see #42 patrolling the field and not getting burnt on a consistent basis. Church started off the 2012 season on fire. Now he didn't light it up statistically, which is something he may never do, but his ability to play the safety position up in-the-box or over-the-top in coverage has been lacking in Dallas.
Disaster struck in Week 3 and Church suffered a torn Achilles injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season. That is the type of injury that can derail your entire career, but the Cowboys believed in him. A few weeks after that devastating injury, the front office locked Church up with a four-year extension.
Now that he is back, Church is setting some lofty goals for himself in 2013. In a recent interview with Nick Eatman, the topic of the Pro Bowl came up.
"Me personally, I would like to make the Pro Bowl," Church said. "I feel like I was on my way last year before I got injured. This year, I feel like if I could withstand the whole season, I have a good chance."
Was he on his way to a Pro Bowl last year? That's debatable, but Church was having the start of a promising career. I've been dying to see a good safety on the Dallas Cowboys, and I believe this young man has all the makings of a good football player.
As for coming back from his injury, there was some concern if he could retain his athleticism. As a matter of fact, this has been my major concern with extending Church and giving him a contract before seeing what he could do on the football field after suffering an injury that has ended some careers.
In an article written by Rainer Sabin of SportsDayDFW, Sabin caught up with Church's secondary coach Jerome Henderson.
"Barry, with the Achilles, you worried if he would come back with the same quickness, the same burst," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "He looked like the same guy we saw last year before we lost him to the injury. He’s moving around extremely well. I just hope he continues on the path he’s on."
So far all the reports coming out of Valley Ranch suggest that Church hasn't lost any of his athleticism, quickness or coverage ability. If he can retain the athletic ability that he showed us before the injury, then he can pick up where he left off and possibly take a trip to Hawaii.
Some have been speculating what type of role Church will play in Monte Kiffin's new defense. I envision a Kam Chancellor type of "in the box" role that plays him closer to the line of scrimmage and allows Church to use his short-area quickness and linebacker skills. There will be times when he has to drop deeper into coverage and be responsible for larger parts of the field. He's a versatile player that Kiffin should bring the best out of in his 4-3 scheme.
If Church makes it to the Pro Bowl, then this defense will be one of the best in the league. I hope that happens, but for the time being I would be happy to see Church have a productive season and stay healthy. That's a modest start, so let's take it one step at a time Barry.