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October 25, 2013

Jeff Heath ready to be the next man up for Cowboys in his first start at safety

To let undrafted rookie safety Jeff Heath tell it, Friday was just a typical practice for him. Except for the little matter of taking all the reps with the first team for the first time because starter J.J. Wilcox will be sidelined Sunday against the Lions after suffering a sprained knee in practice.

“It wasn't much (different), except for taking all the reps with the ones,” said Heath with a straight face, in all sincerity. “I have been rotating in there the last few weeks, so it wasn't really that much different.”

Wilcox was hurt while fighting for the ball with tight end Gavin Escobar during red zone drills Thursday. He will miss the Lions' game and possibly next week's game against the Vikings.

Heath acknowledged he will be a little nervous at first, making his first start in Detroit what will be a homecoming of sorts. He went college at nearby Saginaw Valley State and grew up in Lake Orion. His mother bought more than 80 tickets to the game for friends and family even before it was known he would be the starter.

Heath's focus is doing whatever he can to help the Cowboys win and not let his teammates down as the next man up in the secondary.

“It's big,” Heath said. “You only have so many guys on the team, so you have to be ready to play. We have kind of had that on our defense the whole year, guys coming in and stepping up and playing good in games. Now it's my turn to do that.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Heath has been impressive since he joined the team after the draft. He has performed well on special teams and in a limited role on the regular defense.

“We like him,” Garrett said. “He's been a guy who's done a lot of really positive things for us since he's been here. Again, a college free agent who came in and said ‘I'm going to make your football team based on my performance each and every day.’ It first showed up on teams, but he's been a solid performer on defense when he's gotten opportunities.”

Clarence Hill

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