I was extremely high on safety Barry Church heading into the 2012 season. I wrote this:
It’s looking more and more like Barry Church will be the Cowboys’ starting safety opposite Gerald Sensabaugh on opening night. The move—letting a veteran player walk in favor of a young, albeit unproven commodity—has become typical for Jason Garrett during his short reign as head coach. It’s an extremely difficult decision to start a safety with zero career interceptions, but it’s the right one.
In 2011, I tracked Church as racking up 18 solo tackles. Playing 172 snaps, Church’s tackle rate of 10.5 percent was by far the best on the team. As a point of comparison, linebacker Sean Lee was second on the team with a 9.3 percent tackle rate.
In his rookie season of 2010, we saw similar production from Church. He totaled 10 solo tackles in 120 snaps, good for an 8.3 percent tackle rate. Again, that was one of the best marks on the defense.
I talk a lot about 40-yard dash times and weight/speed stats, but the most important factor when we’re projecting players in the future is a history of past production. Church’s on-field experience isn’t vast, but he’s been very productive.
Earlier this year at NBC, I explained why I like Church so much:
Despite a lack of long speed, there is explosiveness to Church’s game. He recorded a 10-1 broad jump and a really quick 4.17 short shuttle. That suggests Church possesses good short-area quickness—perfect for playing near the line-of-scrimmage.
Church is really a perfect fit in Monte Kiffin’s scheme. He has the versatility to play deep when needed, but he can also come into the box and really make a difference. I projected Church at 80 tackles in 2013, but I’m starting to think I undersold him.
We’re already seeing the 25-year old evolve right in front of our eyes. Church dominated on Sunday night, receiving my highest defensive grade with eight tackles (including seven solo), a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Church also allowed three catches for 35 yards on three targets. I think he has the ability to cover underneath, but he’s an average safety in the back end. That’s really why I think we’re typically going to see more Cover 3 from Kiffin than we did against the Giants; it will allow for Church to play near the line, hiding his weakness in the deep half while allowing him to utilize his size and quickness.
I previously projected Church at 80 tackles—five per game. With the way the Cowboys are using him, I feel comfortable in bumping that to six per game. That’s 90 over the final 15 contests. When you add the eight he totaled from Week 1, you’re looking at a 98-tackle season for the safety—a number that would have ranked him sixth among safeties in 2012.