Rookie free agent Barry Church knows he still hasn’t heard the last of it.
Three days after being tackled by San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on a 70-yard fumble return, the Dallas Cowboys’ safety left the practice field Tuesday to more taunts from teammates.
“Hey, you know even Kitna would have caught you,” teammate Danny McCray kidded Church, pointing to the Cowboys’ 37-year-old backup quarterback.
All Church could do was laugh.
He hopes to have a last(ing) laugh. Church is one of 10 rookies, five of them free agents, with a chance to make the final 53-man roster.
The fourth-round selection of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, and the play of Church and McCray during training camp, will leave secondary coach Dave Campo and the Cowboys with some difficult decisions. The Cowboys could choose to keep six safeties, and only four corners, with Owusu-Ansah, McCray and Church all making the roster as rookies.
“That would be crazy exciting,” McCray said. “When you come in as free agents, we’ve got to do everything special in order to get a look. So far we’ve been getting those looks and those opportunities, and I think we’ve taken advantage of them pretty well. We’ve got two more games, so we’ve got to keep it up to solidify, hopefully, a spot on the Dallas Cowboys.”
Church started 48 games at Toledo, earning first-team All-MAC honors all four years. He was one of 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 2009. Church ended his career with 354 tackles, one sack, eight interceptions, 18 pass breakups and six forced fumbles.
But Church ran only a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash, nearly the slowest time among safeties at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was not one of 255 players drafted in April.
“I thought it was a combination of (his 40 time), and the defense we ran at Toledo didn’t show my cover skills as much as it should have,” Church said. “But God has a plan for everybody, and I’m doing what I have to do.”
The Cowboys had Church rated as a late-round pick, and when he went undrafted, they quickly signed him. They liked what they saw on film, if not on the stopwatch.
“I think sometimes guys don’t play the same speed as they look,” Campo said. “Some people look at it and they say, ’Well, this guy doesn’t run 4.4,’ but then all of a sudden he’s making all the plays. Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to say this guy is a football player, and he can make some plays for you.
“There are guys who are going to fall through the cracks who are football players, and they show themselves when they have an opportunity.”
Church has done just that. He is second on the team in tackles after three preseason games with 12 and tied for second in special teams tackles with two. He also has defensed a pass.
Then, there was the fumble recovery.
The Chargers were leading 7-0 and driving for more late in the second quarter Saturday when Cowboys linebacker Bradie James punched the ball from Darren Sproles’ hands.
Church, playing in place of injured starter Gerald Sensabaugh, picked it up on the run, and with teammates escorting him, headed toward the other goal line.
Church could see the end zone. He was close enough to smell it. He never made it.
Rivers tackled Church, leaving him 8 yards shy of the end zone after an 80-yard return.
“I got a lot of grief,” Church said. “It was, ’Man, he wears a knee brace. You let a quarterback catch you,’ and, ’Man, I can’t believe that.’ I got everything, every word in the book.”
Even Kitna began deriding the rookie for not scoring.
“I think I’ve got better moves than Church does,” Kitna said. “I know that. I would have scored.
“But he’s impressive. I like that kid. . . . He keeps making plays in practice, too.”
Next time, Church hopes to have everyone making fun of his touchdown dance.