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Could Jeff Heath be the Starting Safety Next to Byron Jones in 2017?

Brian Martin

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Could Jeff Heath Be The Starting Safety Next Byron Jones In 2017?

There are a number of unanswered questions surrounding what the Dallas Cowboys will do with some of their free agents this off-season. One of those questions is who are they going to get to play at safety next season opposite Byron Jones with Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox testing free agency?

Enter #38, everybody’s favorite player to hate, Jeff Heath.

I know everybody wants to see the Cowboys re-sign either Barry Church for J.J. Wilcox, but I’m not so sure that the coaching staff won’t take a long hard look at increasing Jeff Heath’s playing time and making him the starter in 2017.

The Cowboys have been wise about how they spend their money in free agency the past several years, and I expect that to continue this off-season as well.

They have a lot of holes to fill on their roster this off-season, especially on defense. I’m sure they would love to bring Barry Church back if the price is right. But, that’s the thing. It always comes down to money, and Church might be able to make more taking his talents to another team.

Of course, everybody mentions that Wilcox might be the more affordable safety of the two to bring back, but can the Cowboys really rely on him to be a full-time starter? I know I don’t have the answer to that and I’m not sure they do either.

So, why not roll the dice and see what Jeff Heath can do as a full-time starter. I mean, when given the chance all he does is make plays.

Could Jeff Heath Be The Starting Safety Next Byron Jones In 2017? 1

S Jeff Heath

He may have only finished the 2016 regular season with 23 tackles and one interception, but it’s the last impression he made that might make the Cowboys coaching staff seriously consider evaluating him as a starter next season.

You may have forgotten, but Jeff Heath is a big reason why the Dallas Cowboys were able to claw their way back into the game against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Heath was able to do what very few defensive backs are able to do against Aaron Rodgers, get an interception. Heath did it not once, but twice. Yes, I’m counting the second INT, even though it was overturned because of a bad penalty call by the referees.

He just has a nose for the ball and seems to always be in the right place at the right time. He is definitely underrated as a player by a lot of Dallas Cowboys fans, but not so by his teammates or the coaching staff.

The Cowboys made sure to sign Jeff Heath to a four-year, $7,671,000 contract extension last April in 2016. To be completely honest, I really liked the signing at the time and I like it even more now.

The Cowboys likely extended Heath’s contract mostly because of his contributions on special teams, but also because he is a good reserve safety to have in your back pocket to use when needed.

Depending on how things work out between the Cowboys and their free agent safeties, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, we could see Jeff Heath see an extended role on the backend of the defense in 2017. And you know what? I think I would be okay with that.

What do you think of Jeff Heath as a starting safety in 2017?

Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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10 Comments
  • Fatfan

    If Church is gone, the job should be Heath’s to lose. But I do like the improvement seen in Wilcox. (no coincidence it came with a db coaching change) Wilcox will fill in well as a back-up, and he brings the wood when it’s time to CLEANLY hit a wr coming across the middle. That may have more value than many fans realize.

    • Brian Martin

      I like what I saw from Wilcox this season. I’m curious what kind of money he will be asking for. If the Cowboys do bring him back, I would imagine he would likely be the favorite to start next to Byron Jones. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how much the Cowboys value what they currently have on the roster and what’s on the open market.

  • Don

    I would like to see more playing time for him. If he can stay healthy he’s been an asset. He plays with that Sean Lee type aggressiveness and seems to find the ball. I think we’ll see a vast improvement from the D this coming season. Those guys had a little taste of what might have been and are hungry. It’s still disappointing to me the way our season ended but there’s definitely something to look forward to this year. I still think their approach to the finale with Philly was way too conservative and they should have gone for the jugular in that game and played their ass off and kept their momentum going, but that’s water under the bridge now…!

    • Brian Martin

      Don, the more I think about it the more I like the idea of Jeff Heath getting a shot at playing next to Byron Jones. We’ve seen a small sample size what he can do when given the opportunity, hopefully he can build on that. Of course, this could all change if the Cowboys draft a safety or re-sign Church or Wilcox. Regardless, Heath could see more playing time in 2017.

  • Michael Moy

    Heath can catch the ball, something the other DBs can’t. Wilcox played better than Church. BJ underachieved. All CBs are flawed — nobody knows how to play the ball. Time to put some money on the DL and in CBs before Lee gets old.

    • Brian Martin

      Michael, I agree with you for the most part. However, I think there was a big difference when Church was in the lineup then when Wilcox was in the lineup. Church is the better player, but not by much. Wilcox continues to improve, but I don’t know if he’ll be in the Cowboys future plans.

      I also don’t think Byron Jones underachieved. I think everybody had such high expectations for him being the type of ball hawking safety everybody wants. His position flexibility really helped the backend of the Cowboys defense in 2016. He will continue to get better with more playing time.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think the Cowboys will invest a lot of money in free agency. I think they will continue to take the approach of bargain shopping to fill holes and build this team through the draft.

      • Michael Moy

        Expectations and flexibility not withstanding, BJ had problems with covering above-avg TEs. He also was no ball hawk. Being OK at several things is not going to do it as an NFL centerfielder, especially coming in as a high #1. Lastly, he did not do the job on the next to last play in that loss to GB. Maybe I am calling him out a bit much, perhaps the DB coach (the DBs just don’t play the ball, one reason why few INTs) and DC need to coach better. Come to think of it, same goes for the LB coach. If Sean had turned and played the underthrown ball from Rogers, he would have had an INT instead of giving up a TD. The defense hustled and overachieved for the most part, so then it’s talent and technique (coaching).

        • Brian Martin

          This was Byron Jones first year as a full-time safety. He will only continue to get better, but I will admit he did have his ups and downs. But that can be said for anyone in the Cowboys secondary. The lack of pass rush really hurt the Cowboys secondary because there are asked to guard receivers for an extended period of time.

      • Michael Moy

        By the way, it’s time to get over the hump instead of keep saying rebuild. We were 13-3 in two out of three seasons. Opportunities are slipping away. BTW, I think JJ is ok with all this because the franchise value keeps going up, but for the fans it’s torture. Building thru the draft as the primary approach is sound, assuming scouting and coaching excellence. However, when you are that close, you have to bring in the last piece(s) (eg, Deion, Haley, Herb Adderley, Lance Alworth — under Johnson and Landry who built thru the draft but was smart and flexible to know what it takes to win SBs when it’s time). Red Head is no coach of the year, too single minded (BTW, he and I are fellow alumni so I do hope he does well, but more importantly I’m a 50-year Cowboys die-hard).

        • Brian Martin

          I agree that they’re not rebuilding, but I’m not sure that missing piece is available in free agency. The best free agent DE is probably Chandler Jones, but I wouldn’t call him a difference maker. Sure, he would be an upgrade over what the Cowboys currently have on the roster, but I don’t think even take the defense over the top. I think as fans we have to remain patient because the best teams build through the draft. That’s one of the reasons the Patriots are continuously one of the best teams in the league year after year.

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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