Draft pick J.J. Wilcox will help Cowboys at safety

Upgrading at safety was one of the Dallas Cowboys’ top priorities following the conclusion of the 2012 season. The lack of playmakers at the position had many thinking the Cowboys would draft a safety in the first round last Thursday.

However, when former Longhorn Kenny Vaccaro was selected by the New Orleans Saints at No. 15, the Cowboys had no other safety ranked high enough on their board to warrant pulling the trigger at No. 18.

Instead, the Cowboys waited until the third round, selecting J.J. Wilcox out of Georgia Southern. Wilcox was the seventh safety drafted and ranked in the top five at his position by the Cowboys, likely behind Vaccaro, LSU’s Eric Reid and Florida International’s John Cyprien.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Cowboys didn’t draft a safety before the third round was because new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s philosophy on the position.

During a conference call with Cowboys season-ticket holders on Wednesday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones mentioned a conversation he had with Kiffin about acquiring safeties.

“Don’t worry as much about range,” Jones recalled Kiffin telling him. “[Kiffin] said our scheme gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry about experience as much as you have in the past. Give us some young players that have instincts and let us go from there with them.

“We’ve done that and I think we’ll be satisfied. That’s the reason we drafted Wilcox, by the way. I think we’re in good shape at safety.”

Wilcox will get a chance to compete for a starting spot, but if the season started today, Barry Church, who tore his right Achilles tendon in September, and Matt Johnson, who missed all of last season because of hamstring injuries, would be the starters.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones said.

The Cowboys also signed veteran free agent safety Will Allen in March.

During the hour-long chat with fans, Jones said that the defense should be the team’s strength and Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme “will allow younger guys to play earlier.”

Follow Jon Machota on Twitter: @jonmachota