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May 10, 2013

Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox doesn't think his inexperience will keep him from competing for a starting job

J.J. Wilcox played offense his first three seasons at Georgia Southern. He admits he was "hesitant" when the idea of moving to safety was proposed to him by head coach Jeff Monken before Wilcox's senior season.

But Wilcox, who hadn't played safety since he was a two-way player in high school, wouldn't have been a third-round draft pick as a slot receiver or as a running back. The Cowboys drafted WIlcox in the third round, gambling on his upside.

"I’m a team player," said Wilcox, who caught 45 career passes for 898 yards and four touchdowns and had 138 carries for 968 yards and 13 touchdowns. "I love to win, so whatever it takes to win, I’m all in."

Having been a safety for only one season, Wilcox has a long way to go before he makes an impact at the position in the NFL.

"Light years. Light years," Cowboys defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said when asked how far away Wilcox is. "You have that coupled with the fact that the league he played in. He jumped into this league with only one year at the job. Then, just the adjustment that all rookies have. He’s got a lot to adjust to and learn."

But Wilcox doesn't think his inexperience at the position will prevent him from winning a starting job. That is his goal.

"I think my ability, the characteristics I have, I can contribute and hopefully turn into an NFL starting safety on Day 1," he said.

The Cowboys are unsettled at the position after releasing Gerald Sensabaugh. They have faith that Barry Church can return from a torn Achilles' tendon he suffered in Week 3 and that Matt Johnson can develop into the player they drafted with a fourth-rounder last year. Johnson missed his entire rookie season with hamstring and back injuries. The Cowboys did sign Will Allen in free agency, though he has started only 33 games in six seasons and now is with his third team.

Still, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not concerned about the position.

"I think we are unproven would be the overall assessment," Jones said. "Church has played and has shown us that if he can play at the level that he’s shown us, then we’re going to have a really outstanding safety. The other guys, Johnson and these guys we’ve brought in from the draft, they’ve got to show it. That’s one of the other good things that I think Monte [Kiffin] and Jerome bring is that we’re going to have a system here that those guys can not have to think about and can go out there and use that natural, physical ability they have and their natural speed. These guys have that, and they’re all very aggressive. I think that we have really something to work with here. I think that we will benefit a lot from a scheme that emphasizes what these guys bring – big, physical guys who like to hit. ...If you look at their backgrounds, the thing that comes up is tough. That’s a common thread that was in all of their evaluations was how tough they are. I’m talking about the new guys we brought in. We know about Church.

"I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves."

-- Charean Williams

Twitter: @NFLCharean





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