Barry Church, a rookie free agent in 2010, earned the starting strong safety job out of training camp last year. It lasted only three games as he tore his right Achilles' tendon in a game against the Bucs.
Now, Church is competing for a starting job again.
"I definitely feel like the job’s mine to lose, and I don’t plan on losing it," Church said.
The Cowboys liked what they saw from Church enough in three games to reward him with a four-year, $9 million contract extension not long after his injury. They also had enough faith in him not to draft a safety in the first or second round (like LSU's Eric Reid) or spend a lot in free agency. Veteran Will Allen signed a one-year, $840,000 deal as insurance, and the Cowboys drafted small-school J.J. Wilcox as a developmental player in the third round.
Church was taking first-team snaps Tuesday, with Allen and Matt Johnson rotating first-team snaps opposite Church.
"He was one of those free agents that everybody overlooked, and we brought him in here and he proved to us that he belonged on this football team as a special teams guy," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "His role has increased over his career where he said, 'Hey, I’m not just a special teams guy. I can play on defense. I’m not just a down safety. I can play on the back end.' You remember training camp last year: He came in and just won that job. We had some other guys competing for that, and he just stuck out like a sore thumb every day in practice. He was doing something to say, 'Hey, I’m the guy who needs to play safety for you.'
"It’s too bad he got hurt early on in the year. He’s the kind of guy that kind of grows and develops right before your eyes. So he was improving with every opportunity he got. He seems like he’s healthy. He’s been moving around great all throughout the offense, so excited to see him grow this offseason with the OTAs."
Church was fully cleared last week, and no one was happier about returning to practice than he was. He briefly doubted he would play again.
But Cowboys secondary coach Jerome Henderson said Church is as good as old.
"With his Achilles' you worried would he come back with his same quickness, with his same burst," Henderson said. "He looks like the same guy we saw last year before we lost him to the injury. He’s moving around extremely well, so I'm just hoping he continues on the path he’s on."
-- Charean Williams