Rookie safety Jeff Heath put a charge into AT&T Stadium with his hit on Bengals receiver Cobi Hamilton, knocking the ball loose for one of the Cowboys’ four takeaways in the preseason game Saturday night.
The fans liked the hit. But the play also highlighted both Heath’s rise from the bottom of the roster and the Cowboys’ emphasis on creating turnovers.
“It wasn’t one of those where I’m going to try to punch or chip it, but I knew where the ball was,” Heath said. “I tried to put my helmet on the ball. You know, as a tackler, you want to put your helmet on the ball. If you put your helmet across his body, it’s got a chance to hit the ball.”
Heath, an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State, is playing second-team safety with third-round pick J.J. Wilcox. Heath has moved ahead of veterans Danny McCray, Eric Frampton and Micah Pellerin, 2012 draft pick Matt Johnson and fellow undrafted rookie Jakar Hamilton.
“Textbook football,” Wilcox said of Heath’s hit. “He’s a great player, man. I love playing beside him. He’s coming from a smaller school. It just shows you that with hard work, no matter where you come from, you can make it. I love playing with him.”
Heath said he is “having a blast,” although the transition to the pro game was tougher than expected.
“I knew there was going to be a little bit of a gap coming from D-II straight to the NFL,” he said. “I was aware of that. At first, that gap was pretty big. But I feel like with more time, more reps, more practice, meetings, I’m learning a lot. And I’m learning from our vets. We have some really good vets, especially in the secondary.”
He said he and Barry Church have a Michigan background in common, and Will Allen has been extra helpful.
“Will Allen, he’s been in the league for 10 years, and I can ask him anything, and he’ll give me a straight answer,” Heath said. “He’s been through it all. He knows it all. He’s been really helpful. Barry too. He’s been in the league a few years. He went undrafted like myself. We’ve kind of had the same experience.”
Heath got his big break when Johnson, who had been paired with Wilcox, got hurt.
“Matt’s one of my good buddies. You don’t want to see any guys get hurt,” Heath said. “But that’s the game we play. Guys are going to get hurt. When those injuries do happen, you’ve got to step in. That’s your chance, and you’ve got to take advantage of your chances.”
-- Carlos Mendez