Out of all the personnel moves over the past few days, two stuck out to me the most. One, Matt Johnson being placed on injured reserve. Two, Jeff Heath making the 53-man roster.
The MJ news was disconcerting. As a Washingtonian, I was happy when the Cowboys selected him in the 4th round out of EWU last year. I was even happier after watching his highlight video that showed an aggressive Safety with a nose for the ball. And then the injuries came. Johnson ended up not playing a single game in 2012 when he hurt both hamstrings. After a year to recover, I hoped that 2013 would see a healthy Johnson returning to shore up a weak Safety position. And then, after a strong performance in limited time during the Hall of Fame game against Miami, he went out with a foot injury. The injury turned out to be a stress reaction in the navicular bone of his left foot, a complication which will result in him being unavailable to play during the entire 2013 season.
That sucks. I was excited to see someone around my age from the same state play for the Cowboys. Not to mention I thought he had the potential to be a play maker. Of course, he’s not going anywhere. Johnson will still be around come 2014, hopefully fully healthy and ready to play. But the news that he was going on IR got me down.
However, when one door closes another opens. In this case Matt Johnson’s injury opened the door for undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Heath to grab a spot on Dallas’ 53-man roster. A long shot at the beginning of training camp, Heath has performed well and put together an impressive preseason consisting of 16 tackles, 11 solo, 1 tackle for a loss, and 1 forced fumble. The forced fumble, coming against the Bengals in Week 4 of preseason on a textbook tackle, is probably what sealed the deal for Heath making the team. In the highlight you can see Jason Garrett smiling and clapping on the sideline in the aftermath of the play. Considering the emphasis he has put on turnovers, there is no doubt he was pleased by the fumble. But with what I know about Garrett, I believe he was also excited to see a deep roster guy coming up big when it mattered.
Seizing opportunity is something that Garrett preaches and exactly what Heath has accomplished in lieu of Johnson. He embodies what Garrett talks about when he says “the right kind of guys”. He wants players that love to play and compete. From everything I’ve heard, Heath fits right into that mold. His defensive coordinator at Saginaw Valley State University, Todd Stepsis, had this to say upon hearing the news of Heath making the roster:
“He is probably the most vicious competitor I’ve ever been around…He’s going to do whatever it takes to get the job done, whatever that job may be. It doesn’t matter if it’s in practice or in a game.”
Fellow rookie Safety J.J. Wilcox has praised Heath as well, saying:
“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.”
Speaking about the situation himself, Heath had this to say:
“Matt’s one of my good buddies. You don’t want to see any guys get hurt…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.”
Matt Johnson’s placement on IR is definitely not what Cowboys fans were expecting a week before the Sunday Night opener against the Giants (one week!). In my mind though, it has been off-set by the emergence of Jeff Heath. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll get to see both of them holding down the back end of the defense. I’m not giving up on Matt Johnson just yet. The scouts and coaches must see something special to go through the trouble of keeping him around. I trust their eyes. After all, they just showed (once again) how to mine a diamond from the UDFA rough.