Jeff Heath waited five years for this. After making only 10 starts in his first four seasons, Heath has the starting strong safety job in his sights.
“It feels good,” Heath said Sunday during the team’s 13th annual Taste of the NFL to tackle childhood hunger. “But I think I’ve earned that trust, and I’m just ready for the competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone if you approach it the right way. I think it’ll bring the best out in me and really our whole team. So I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
The Cowboys lost safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency. The two combined for 16 starts at strong safety, making 162 tackles and three interceptions.
While Church and Wilcox combined for 1,262 defensive snaps, Heath played 238, 106 fewer than he played on special teams. Heath made 20 tackles on defense, with an interception and two pass breakups, while contributing another seven tackles on special teams.
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“Everyone wants to play more,” Heath said. “Obviously, I feel like the more I play, the more of an impact I can make. So it’s kind of frustrating sometimes when you feel like you’re not impacting a game very much. But I feel like my role is always pretty important on the team with all the special teams, and that’s kind of been an overlooked aspect of the game. It wins and loses games, and you don’t really notice it until you mess up or make a crazy play. …When you’re on a winning team, that kind of handles a lot of the frustrations.”
The Cowboys made it clear when Church departed to the Jaguars and Wilcox to the Bucs that they had faith in Heath. They signed veteran Robert Blanton late in free agency and didn’t draft a safety until taking Louisiana Tech’s Xavier Woods in the fifth round.
“Every time we’ve given him a chance to play on defense, he does something really good for our football team,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said earlier this month. “Makes tackles, makes interceptions, and he’s just demonstrated that he’s worthy to be in this conversation about competing for that starting safety spot.”