Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s excitement about J.J. Wilcox’s hard hitting prompted him to send video of Wilcox to his former Pro Bowl safety in Tampa, John Lynch.
Wilcox quickly has garnered a reputation as a hard hitter, exciting his coaches and teammates.
“You see the hits he’s been laying on people,” safety Byron Jones said. “It’s really the identity of the defense, what he does when he comes down and makes tackles. He’s been a great asset for us thus far.”
The Cowboys lost starting strong safety Barry Church to a broken right forearm against the Eagles. They haven’t missed a beat.
In the past two games, Wilcox has played 117 of 118 defensive snaps with 12 tackles and a pass defensed. Many of those hits have proved jarring to opposing ball carriers, setting the tone for the Dallas defense.
“You just have to lay it on the line type deal,” Wilcox said. “You have to give yourself and sacrifice and lay it on the line for the guys next to you. I love my teammates, and there’s no better feeling than to get them fired up with a big hit.”
Wilcox lost his job, though, for too many missed tackles in previous seasons. He has missed fewer tackles this season.
“Two or three really big hits on the running back [Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell], impactful hits,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s one thing to be making those hits, but sometimes guys who are making those big hits are having a lot of big misses. I think he’s doing a better job minimizing his missed tackles and making a lot of those hits. I think it’s a function of him just playing more. He’s more and more confident. And I think he’s better technically, where he’s not quite so out of control. He’s under control, but he’s still physical and explosive when he makes contact.”
Wilcox had little experience at safety before the Cowboys used a third-round choice on him in 2013. He played running back until his senior season at Georgia Southern when he switched to safety.
Although he started 34 games his first three seasons, Wilcox went to training camp battling for a roster spot. He won a job, and since the Cowboys rotate their safeties, he played 254 snaps the first seven games.
“The coaches do a great job with me,” Wilcox said. “That’s the main thing: I want to give back to the Dallas Cowboys and that front office for just being patient with me and helping me develop.”