Jeff Heath could be breakout candidate in rebuilt secondary

DALLAS - Jeff Heath is the embodiment of a lunch pail guy.

Undrafted out of DII Saginaw Valley State in 2013, Heath signed with Dallas and began his career playing primarily on special teams, where he was limited to punt return and kickoff coverage. It wasn't a glamorous role, but he seemingly embraced it with a blue collar attitude.

Admittedly, the expectation level for Heath was minimal, and his future uncertain. Rather than get discouraged, Heath blossomed to become one of the Cowboys' special teams gurus, leading the team in special teams tackles in 2015.

Now four years after arriving in Dallas, Heath's time as a special team ace might be over – there is a starting safety job with his name on it.

It's no secret the Cowboys had quite a bit of turnover this offseason, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas lost four members of its secondary, with Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church all departing in free agency.

To help solve this mass exodus in the backfield, the Cowboys used a bunch of their draft resources in April on new options for the secondary. In addition to corners Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Marquez White, the Cowboys also drafted safety Xavier Woods to compete for spots behind returning players Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Byron Jones, and free agent acquisition Nolan Carroll.

With Church and Wilcox gone, and backups Robert Blanton, Kavon Frazier, and Woods still either unproven or inexperienced, the Cowboys are not only incredibly thin at the back, but in dire need of a starting safety.

And Heath is primed for a breakout year.

Last season as a reserve, Heath tallied 13 tackles and recorded a career-best two interceptions. While he didn't necessarily stuff the stat sheet, Heath's contributions to a rather mediocre Dallas defense were impressive considering he rarely saw playing time in the secondary.

In the regular season, Heath played 22.5 percent of the Cowboys' defensive snaps and was third on the team in special teams tackles. Despite going undrafted four years ago, Heath's size at 6'1 and 209 pounds allows him to not only alternate between man and zone coverages, but patrol the middle of the field and make plays at the line of scrimmage.

Those abilities were most memorably put on display in Dallas' divisional playoff game against Green Bay.

With the Cowboys trailing for most of the game, Heath helped ignite Dallas' rally, recording three tackles, a sack and intercepting Aaron Rodgers to swing momentum back to the Cowboys. Heath would've had another interception, too, had Dallas not drawn a flag off the ball.

It's a relatively small sample size, but in a mere 30 minutes, Heath proved he could not only hold his own, but turn the tide of a game. 

Now as the Cowboys look to re-tool their secondary, Heath has a chance to be a part of the new-look group for years to come.

Maybe he can start leaving his lunch pail at home.

Are you ready for the Jeff Heath, starting safety era to begin? Share your excitement with Reece on Twitter @ReeceWaddell15.

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