Cowboys fans were dismayed this week by news that rookie Safety J.J. Wilcox would be out for Sunday’s game in Detroit with a sprained knee suffered in practice. Thankfully, the next man up looks ready to do the job.
Backup Safety Jeff Heath, a rookie himself, will be getting the start in Wilcox’s place. When asked about what was different in practice he said with a straight face:
It wasn’t much (different), except for taking all the reps with the ones…I have been rotating in there the last few weeks, so it wasn’t really that much different.
At first glance, this seems like a remarkably level headed statement from an undrafted rookie making his first start in an NFL game. But if you know anything about Heath’s history, it makes sense. You have to be confident in yourself to go from roster afterthought to making the 53.
This week Head Coach Jason Garrett had this to say about Heath:
We certainly like him. He’s done a lot of nice things for us. He’s a college free agent who came in and said ‘I’m going to make your football team.’ He first showed up on [special] teams but he’s been a solid performer on defense.
Heath already made good on one opportunity presented by injury during preseason. When Matt Johnson went down, he stepped in to win himself the back-up job. That could be why he’s approaching Sunday so casually. He said:
Anytime you’re going to make your first start you’re a little more anxious, but that’s a good thing…To be a little bit nervous, I feel like that’s a good thing…It will only last a play or so, and then once the game gets going, it will just be like another football game.
As if being responsible for keeping the lid on Calvin Johnson in your first game isn’t enough pressure, Heath will also be playing in front of 82 family members because he’s from the Detroit area. The last time he played at Ford Field was for the High School State Championship.
I expect Heath to play a good game under this pressure. I’m sure there will be rookie mistakes, but he shouldn’t be a big liability. Seeing how things have worked out for him so far, I’ll predict he picks off Stafford at least once. Good things seem to follow this guy.