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Improved J.J. Wilcox delivering big hits on regular basis

FRISCO, Texas - J.J. Wilcox has needed every bit of his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys to become a difference-maker.

Understand, that's what he is these days.

Wilcox won't start Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional playoff game, but his potential to deliver a game-changing play makes him a player to watch.

He's provided the Cowboys with a physical presence they haven't had since safety Roy Williams was an annual Pro Bowl participant a decade ago.

"There's nothing like making big hit. It's like getting a new car. I live for it," Wilcox said. "It's like Orlando [Scandrick] getting a pick. Or Dez [Bryant] catching a TD or Dak [Prescott] throwing one.

"That's what gets me going -- and it's contagious."

Few envisioned Wilcox's contribution when training camp began because the Cowboys moved 2015 No. 1 draft choice

Byron Jones from cornerback to safety.

The Cowboys drafted another safety, Kavon Frazier, in the sixth round seemingly putting Wilcox's roster spot in jeopardy.

"I've used all of that for motivation," Wilcox said.

Coach Jason Garrett liked his progress and started giving him about 20 plays at safety each week because he had earned the opportunity.

When Barry Church broke his forearm in Week 3, it gave Wilcox an opportunity to solidify his role in defense.

He has 49 tackles this season with an interception, a forced fumble, and six pass deflections.

But it would be wrong to measure his contribution just by looking at stats. When Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws passes in the middle of the field, his receivers will know Wilcox's location.

Otherwise, they will feel his power.

The interesting aspect of Wilcox is that he's the kind of player the Cowboys wouldn't draft these days because he came from a small school (Georgia Southern) where he played running back and receiver before moving to safety before his senior year.

And if they did draft him, they wouldn't have done it in the third round like the Cowboys did with him in 2012.

The Cowboys prefer productive players from Power 5 conferences because it usually makes for a smoother transition to the NFL.

At times, Wilcox still takes poor angles when defending the deep ball but it doesn't happen as frequently as it did. No longer is he frequently out of control, when making a tackle so he misses fewer.

When he missed three games in December with a deep thigh bruise, the Cowboys missed him. The game has finally slowed down for Wilcox. He's making plays instead of mistakes.

"I've just been working, chopping wood every day," said Wilcox, using his hands to demonstrate the motion. "I don't feel like I've found my niche yet, but I feel like I'm going in the right direction and what I'm doing is working."