Barry Church: Role Player or Real Player for the Safety Position Battle
Heading into the first night of the NFL draft, it was all but a forgone conclusion that the Cowboys were serious players for Alabama safety Mark Barron. This seemed to be the case even though the Cowboys signed veteran safety Brodney Pool to a one-year deal in March and still had Barry Church on the roster.
Ultimately the Cowboys elected to go big and trade up for Morris Claiborne, but they also selected Matt Johnson, a player they coveted, in the fourth round. So while the depth at safety seems to be not only rounding out nicely, there also seems to be a highly anticipated training camp battle brewing.
When the Cowboys had the chance to go up and get Claiborne, it was inevitable that Jerry Jones would be enamored with the move. Selecting Claiborne was a no-brainer but what would that mean to finding a long-term answer at safety by bypassing Barron? With Pool, Johnson and Church, do the Cowboys have a real player at the position or just a tornado of terrible on the horizon?
With Brodney Pool, you know you're getting a veteran presence who is athletic, has good range and solid ball skills. As a veteran and someone who has history with Rob Ryan, it would seem natural to think he has the advantage. And he does. The question for Pool is whether or not he'll be the type of player with turnover-making ability at the safety position that the Cowboys covet.
When you look at Matt Johnson as a potential starter out of the gate, is it even a realistic expectation? Of course management would like to say it's definitely a potential expectation but, again, they had him as a highly coveted prospect in the fourth round and want to stand behind the pick. Johnson brings intangibles, intelligence and grit, but I see this more as an eye towards 2013 and wishful thinking for 2012.
So that brings us to Barry Church. The player who is entering a critical year in his development and at the same time is highly regarded in the organization and potentially ready for a breakout season. Since entering the league as an undrafted player, he's beaten the odds by making the team and showing steady progress after a stellar career at Toledo where he was all-conference.
Last season he displayed some versatility with his play against the run and aggressive style at the line. Before he went down with a season-ending injury, Rob Ryan even used him in a package where he played inside linebacker and he also saw increased snaps at safety.
He's a good athlete, solid in run support, he displays all the physical attributes necessary to be successful, but at times you could still see where he needs to develop his game and that comes with experience and more time in the classroom.
If he's going to be a real player and long-term option for the Cowboys at safety, Church will have to prove he can quarterback the secondary and know his assignments from every geometrical angle possible along with that of his teammates. I don't think he'll make people forget Darren Woodson but at the same time if he can be consistent and productive, that will carry him a long way.
Church was able to display more of his game at the recent OTA's and minicamp by splitting first team reps at safety with Pool. Both players are similar in size at 6'2", but contrasting in style. Will Church's physical, in-the-box style of play or Pool's athletic, ball-hawking style of play be the most conducive for this defense to succeed and reach its full potential?
Is Barry Church headed for role player or real player status while he is a member of the Cowboys secondary? 2012 will certainly provide the answer to that question, and I, for one, think he's headed towards player status. For Church, the key isn't whether he starts or not, but rather making enough plays to at least force a split in playing time or carving out a key role for himself on this defense.
If he can make enough plays Rob Ryan will get him an opportunity. What Church does with it will ultimately determine his fate in Dallas.
The first day of training camp is July 30th in Oxnard. I'm sure Barry Church has that day circled on his calendar.
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