IRVING, Texas — A Dallas Cowboys transition from 10-year NFL safety Will Allen to fast-learning rookie J.J. Wilcox will not be executed the way Mom used to tell you to remove a bandage from a wound. You know, “Rip it off fast, so it stings less.”
This change figures to be gradual. And maybe painful. But in the end, it will hopefully be a permanent solution in the secondary rather than simply a temporary Band-Aid.
“I think I am,” Wilcox responded to reporters on Thursday when asked of his readiness to become a starter. “I’m going to keep preaching just to be ready when my number’s called. It’s a great team going in a great direction, and I just want to be ready.”
Coaches asked Wilcox to be ready on Thursday at Valley Ranch, when the third-round pick from Georgia Southern took snaps with the first team in place of Allen.
“(Wilcox) is definitely a physical player and he has a lot of traits to be great out there,” said Barry Church, who is locked in at the other safety spot. “He just has to get the defense down, get his angles down. The coaches and I will work with him out there with that. As soon as he gets that down, the sky is the limit for the guy.”
It is not a coincidence that Church mentions “angles,” something Allen has struggled with in two games for 1-1 Dallas. As a veteran with experience in this defense (Allen played for Dallas defensive coordinator in Tampa), his great advantage in competition for the job is supposed to his mistake-free approach. That hasn’t quite been the case… and thus, the door of opportunity is ajar.
Wilcox, who impressed all observers with the way he dealt with his commitment to both the team and his family when his mother passed away this summer, is making a sharp climb of the learning curve. He’s athletic, he’s a hitter and “he’s a ballhawk,” as Church noted. But he’s also trying to make the climb to NFL starter after just one year as a safety, having spent his previous time at tiny Georgia Southern as a receiver and running back.
So is Dallas ready to hand over the job to the kid? Not so fast.
This week’s opponent, the Rams, run a spread offense. Unique weapons like elusive Tavon Austin and flex tight end Jared Cook will be put in position to take advantage of any Cowboys defender who isn’t physically and mentally up to the challenge.
“They just attack you in a lot of different ways,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “First and foremost, our cover guys… just have to do a good job with their individual assignments.”
The Cowboys are in the process of readying J.J. Wilcox for his “individual assignments.” Allen, with a one-year contract in his first season in Dallas, is actually a part of that, serving as a mentor to the kid. Wilcox’ time is coming. A shift is coming. But the comfortable familiarity of Allen, Wilcox’ learning curve, and the challenges provided by this week’s opponent suggest this Band-Aid will be changed out slowly.