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Cowboys roster evaluation: Special teams

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This is the 16th – and final - installment of a series of articles evaluating the Dallas Cowboys current roster in anticipation of the April draft. This evaluation deals with the special teams. I finally have reached the end of this review; I hope you guys enjoyed it, because it was a labor of love. It took longer to complete than I initially anticipated because it wasn’t as easy as I thought.

OFFENSE: Part I QB | Part II RB | Part III FB | Part IV WR | Part V TE | Part VI OT | Part VII OG | Part VIII C
DEFENSE: Part IX NT | Part X DE | Part XI OLB | Part XII ILB | Part XIII SS | Part XIV FS | Part XV CB

Special Teams

Kicker – Martin Gramatica

Signed in mid-season to replace the erratic Mike Vanderjagt, Gramatica brought some stability to the FG team. After a rough beginning when he missed his first kick, he came back in that first game to nail the game winner against the Giants and finished the season 7 for 9 on FG’s. Injuries had made Granmatica an afterthought as a kicker for the past couple of years, but several teams told Parcells that Gramatica was fully recovered and kicking well, and it showed over the last part of the season. The Cowboys signed Gramatica back to handle FG’s and XP’s, which he was perfect on last season. There are two drawbacks to Gramatica. One, his kickoffs are usually short of the goal line. Two, he can’t block – oh why couldn’t he have got a little more of a hit on Jordan Babineaux in the playoff game! Seriously, though, you have to give him credit for recognizing the situation and at least attempting to block Babineaux on Romo’s ill-fated run.

Punter – Mat McBriar

McBriar was among the very best punters in the league last year and was a rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl and a new contract. His booming punts were a weapon in the field position game and he was one of the Cowboys best players in 2006. McBriar hits them high and long and is very consistent with his kicks, and he has good accuracy in trying to nail punts inside the 20-yard line. The Cowboys re-signed him in the offseason to a five-year deal so the punting situation in Dallas looks to be in good hands – err, feet – for the foreseeable future.

Kick returner – Miles Austin, Tyson Thompson

Tyson Thompson started the year as the main guy on kick returns and was doing an impressive job. He was at the top of the league in return yards when he got hurt and was knocked out for the season. The Cowboys probably fretted about that until Miles Austin took over and showed that he was as good, or even better, than Thompson was at the job. Austin even took one back for a TD. Depending on how well Thompson recovers from his injury, we could have a serious competition on our hands for the primary kick return position. At least both guys have showed they can do it and they can do it at a high level.

Punt returner – Terence Newman, Patrick Crayton

If there is one thing all Cowboys should be praying for it’s that Terence Newman will no longer return punts. Yes, he’s very capable and ran back one for a TD, but the risk of injury is too high and outweighs the rewards. Just remember how you felt in the game where he almost got decapitated and became the #1 hit on MNF’s "Jacked-Up" segment. Patrick Crayton has solid hands as a punt returner, but doesn’t have the open-field ability to make things happen. The Cowboys need help in this area.

Long snapper – L.P. Ladouceur

No complaints about Ladoucer. He’s been very consistent with his snaps. The one that Romo dropped had nothing to do with the snap. One problem is that Ladoucer doesn’t play a position, so he’s a roster spot used on one very specific situation. Still, it’s worth it if he’s consistent.

Kick Holder - ?

It was Tony Romo, but you can bet the farm he won’t be doing it this year. I’d guess that Brad Johnson will inherit the job.

Coverage teams

The Cowboys had pretty good coverage teams last year, especially on kickoff coverage. It’s a good thing too, because neither of our kickers could get it into the endzone. Guys like Keith Davis, Abram Elam, Pat Watkins, and Oliver Hoyte all played significant roles on the special teams. Even Roy Williams got in on some action. But perhaps our best special teams guy in kickoff coverage was Ryan Fowler who left as a free agent this offseason. Also, Al Singleton who hasn’t signed with anybody yet played quite a bit on special teams. There is a need for some new blood on the coverage teams.

Draft implications

The Cowboys could use a punt return guy and you usually get those from the CB or the WR position. Since the Cowboys have a need anyway for help at those two positions, it’s likely that we will get a few candidates in the draft.  Also, with the need for some depth at LB, the Cowboys will get some young players in the draft who should contribute on special teams.