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August 03, 2013

Matt Johnson's chance to play a game, and get out of J.J. Wilcox's training-camp shadow, almost here

For the entirety of training camp, Matt Johnson has been overshadowed by his partner at safety on the second team, rookie J.J. Wilcox, who has been hitting everything in sight.

Now Johnson is ready to step out of the background as the Cowboys play in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night.

“He’s brought it every day. That’s what we’ve got to do as DBs,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to bring it more, I guess, big-hit-wise. We’re all trying to be physical DBs, running to the ball, and that’s part of our defense.”

Johnson has been waiting for the preseason opener for more than just a chance to hit. It’s his first chance to play in a football game since preseason last year, when he was in for a handful of snaps against the St. Louis Rams in the third game. But he injured his hamstring in the game and missed the rest of the season.

In fact, he only practiced six times the rest of the year. But the Cowboys kept him on the active roster until almost Thanksgiving, underscoring how much they were intrigued by his potential.

“Been a long time coming,” Johnson said. “Ready to get out there. Got to take each day as it is, but definitely kind of circled this day.”

Still, Johnson doesn’t want to go too fast. He wants to keep up with Wilcox, but he wants to stay in the structure of the defense.

“Plays, they say, come to you. You can’t really go make a play, especially as a safety – you can screw up the whole defense,” Johnson said. “But I definitely want to make a play. Everybody does.”

Coach Jason Garrett would like to see Johnson, who had 17 interceptions in college and had a training-camp pick of starter Tony Romo, just play naturally and be himself.

“Sometimes those guys need to cut it loose a little bit,” Garrett said. “We’ve seen Matt do that a little bit the last few days.”

-- Carlos Mendez

Twitter @calexmendez

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