Every year there are guys who are not ready for the NFL but somehow manage to show their coaches enough that they fight their way onto a team's roster. Jeff Heath was one of those guys when he joined the Dallas Cowboys back in 2013.
Heath was a lightly-recruited high school player who received a partial scholarship to Division II Saginaw Valley State University. Hard work and a "never accept defeat" attitude earned him opportunities in college. Those same attributes gain him a chance to join the Cowboys as a camp body after graduation.
It was in that role that Heath displayed something that coaches love to see, especially out of a guy who is playing his heart out just to earn a chance at putting off finding a ‘real' job for another year or two. Heath kept showing up on film.
He might not be the most talented guy in the defensive backs meeting room. He didn't have the benefit of the same level of coaching that many of his contemporaries had been through, but somehow, he was always there when it mattered. This cat was proving that given a chance to develop he might just make a go of his gig with Dallas.
When the Cowboys broke camp and left Oxnard Jeff Heath still had a job. He would get his crack at learning from some of the best coaches in the game and perhaps with a couple years of top notch guidance he would find a role that would allow him to play football for a few more seasons.
The football gods are fickle and they had other plans for the small school product. Injuries decimated the Dallas secondary and before long Heath was not only in the NFL, he was starting for one of the league's high-profile franchises.
It was not pretty.
Heath was not NFL ready. Regardless of pedigree, an NFL starter must strap on his headgear and battle the best the game has to offer. Those guys ate Heath's lunch on a continual basis and he drew the wrath of those who follow the team. No one understood that better than Heath himself.
He returned to his role as a situational player, primarily a special teams ace, and dedicated himself to the resources available to help improve his game. Slowly he fought his way up the pecking order. By the time 2016 had worn to a close, Jeff Heath had quietly convinced those who make decisions in Dallas that he was a viable option for the Cowboys secondary. His development was one of the factors that allowed the front office to comfortably allow both J. J. Wilcox and Barry Church to seek employment elsewhere.
Heath is currently penciled in as the starting safety opposite Byron Jones. Those that remember him getting torched three times by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints during his rookie season may not be comfortable with the idea, but the Cowboys are. The Jeff Heath of 2017 bears only a slight resemblance to the player pressed into a starting role during his rookie season.
The ‘new guy' is confidently making plays, proving himself to his teammates and the coaching staff, and he is driven to make fans forget the humble beginnings that drew the wrath of the faithful.
Jeff Heath's time is now and he stands poised to make a positive mark on the 2017 Dallas Cowboys.