Not even rookie kicking sensation Dan Bailey is safe from competition this year.
If you had asked me during last year's kicker tryouts - which bloomed into a 5-man competition - who would be the Cowboys' kicker in 2011, Dan Bailey would probably have been the last guy on my list that included David Buehler, Shayne Graham, Kai Forbath and Kris Brown. Why? I don't even know why, just a feeling.
Which is the whole problem with these specialists, I have no clue how to assess them. Kickers' combine measurables don't matter one little bit, because if they did, David Buehler would be a multiple All Pro. I have no idea how to evaluate the quality of a long snapper, nor have I ever heard of a metric that would be predictive of a punter's ability to place a ball inside the 20.
The only thing I do know is that, like for every other position on a football team, competition will make everybody prepare more diligently, practice harder and play better. Apparently, the Cowboys are thinking along similar lines, and have made sure there is sufficient competition for the specialists again this year.Dan Bailey was a revelation as the Cowboys kicker last year, and was even named to the PFW All-Rookie Team for 2011. But the Cowboys are bringing in competition anyway.
Punter Chris Jones did well as a stand-in for the injured Mat McBriar, and the Cowboys rewarded him with a three-year contract extension. But they're trying out new punters as you read this.
Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur has never missed a snap if I recall correctly, but the Cowboys signed a UDFA to challenge Mr. 100%. Ladouceur doesn't make much more than the veteran minimum, but with seven years under his belt, that's a little over $800,000. If the Cowboys can find an equally efficient replacement for half the cost, that's a saving worth almost half a million bucks.
Here's an overview of the competition the Cowboys have brought in so far to provide competition for the incumbents:
|Kicker||Dan Bailey||Delbert Alvarado, South Florida|
|Tom Mante, Yale|
|Punter||Chris Jones||Dave Harrington, Idaho State|
|Craig Ratanamorn, Marshall|
|Long snapper||L.P. Ladouceur||Charley Hughlett, Central Florida|
Of the challengers, only long snapper Hughlett was signed to a UDFA contract, all others are in Dallas this weekend for a tryout only. Delbert Avarado already spent the summer of 2010 with the Cowboys, but was released prior to training camp. Mante is free agent who tried out for the Bears last season, as is Ratanamorn who worked out for the Steelers last year. Ratanamorn is nominally a kicker, but ESPNDallas have him listed as a punter, so I'll leave him there for now.
Dave Harrington is a serious threat for incumbent Chris Jones at punter. Harrington was a two-time first-team all Big Sky selection at Idaho and averaged 48.7 yards punting last year, earning first team All-American Honors in the process. Harrington spent his first two seasons of college football at Orange Coast College (which means I'll be pulling for him really, really hard) out of California. At Idaho, he led the NCAA Division 1 Championship Subdivision in gross punting. Here's a short video if you want to familiarize yourself with Harrington.
Does the fact that the Cowboys offered Hughlett a UDFA contract mean he's particularly good? Again, I have no clue. But he does have his own video up on YouTube, so if you've never watched a long snapper take snaps in practice, here's your chance.