How do you replace a Barry Church?
It's pretty hard, isn't it? Logic says you replace him with a better safety, but according to Pro Football Focus, there actually aren't many of them in the league. At the conclusion of 2016 he was ranked ninth among all safeties in the league. That's pretty good.
So the Dallas Cowboys, just like they've been doing for some years now, will turn to home-grown talent to fill an important hole. They'll turn to fifth-year safety Jeff Heath.
Heath has the inside track to land the starter's spot at strong safety in 2017. It probably wasn't planned out like that, given the Cowboys tried their best to solidify the spot. Prior to the draft, Dallas signed veteran safety. During the draft, the Cowboys found possible replacements for Church in second round selection Chidobe Awuize and sixth round pick Xavier Woods.
Despite those additions to the secondary, leading candidate to win that starting role. Undrafted out of Saginaw Valley State in 2013, Heath has been one of the more reliable players on special teams.is still seen as the
Per the Dallas News, since signing with Dallas as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013, Heath is tied for the team lead in interceptions. Including the playoff loss to Green Bay, he has picked off five passes.
The quarterbacks he's intercepted: Jameis Winston (3), Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers. All three have appeared in at least one Pro Bowl.
"I've seen a lot [from Heath]," fellow starter Byron Jones told the Dallas News. "All of this stuff we saw last year. He wasn't getting a lot of playing time earlier in the season but he was coming in at critical situations and making good plays. That's what Jeff Heath's main thing is.
"Even on special teams, he's a core guy. He's a guy who is calling the plays, he's a personal protector on punt [coverage]. That's a big job. If there's one guy we can trust with that, it's Jeff Heath.
Through four seasons Heath has made 125 tackles, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
It's a rather feel-good story for the Cowboys. A undrafted player out of a little-known school, who spent four seasons grinding it out on special teams, will start at strong safety for America's Team.
At least that's what the assumption is for now heading into training camp.