Heath to make first start in homecoming

IRVING, Texas -- This would have been a memorable game for Michigan native Jeff Heath no matter what.

But the undrafted rookie safety didn’t expect to make his first NFL start during his homecoming trip.

That will be the case with third-round pick J.J. Wilcox expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions due to a sprained knee suffered during Thursday’s practice.

“I’m excited,” Heath said. “I feel like I’ve been prepared for this every week. I’m just excited and ready to get out there and play.”

The Cowboys’ confidence in Heath, who earned a roster spot during training camp and the preseason, was a primary factor in their decision to release 10-year veteran safety Will Allen earlier this season. Heath saw his most extended defensive playing time in last week’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles, impressing the coaches and front office while playing 24 snaps.

“I think you all saw last week he was inserted for a reason,” said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, who indicated that Wilcox's injury wasn't a long-term concern. “He’s playing well. He spelled Wilcox for a series in each half and spelled [Barry] Church for a series in each half. We’re getting real comfortable with him playing out there. So it is nice he’s able to step in and get his opportunity here.”

Heath, who was coached by his father, Mike, at Lake Orion High about a 45-minute drive away from Detroit and played his college ball a couple of hours north at Saginaw Valley State, will have dozens at friends and family members in the stands at Ford Field.

“There’s 82 people coming, but I didn’t have to buy any tickets,” Heath said. “If I was paying for them, I don’t think 82 people would be coming.”