One of the weakest positions on the Cowboys' 2009 squad was at placekicker. A bad case of the yips forced Dallas to say good-bye to former Pro Bowl kicker Nick Folk in December. And then the same ills affected his replacement, Shaun Suisham. The team neglected to re-sign him after the season's end.
The Browns recently waived former Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin and signed Suisham. Another kicker of name to come out of college this year was Texas' Hunter Lawrence, who signed with the Buccaneers after the draft.
Dallas had their chance to draft either one of those guys in April, but seems content with David Buehler. His progress has been steady, and he has been learning what he can from kicking coach Chris Boniol to be a more fundamentally sound placekicker.
Buehler described his own talent as "raw," since he didn't start kicking until his senior year in high school and didn't have a kicking coach at the University of Southern California. Even without individual instruction, Buehler was fairly successful at USC. He made 78.8 percent of his field goals during two seasons as a starter, and was an All-Pac 10 first-team choice in 2008.
Buehler will continue to practice both kicking off and placekicking. His other roles on special teams could be reduced if he wins the placekicking job. Sure would be nice to save a roster spot if the team can count on Buehler.
This month's Organized Team Activities will allow Buehler to practice with an offensive and defensive line for the first time since he began working with Boniol, although the defense will not rush him.
Buehler said he wants to break his own franchise record for touchbacks this season, but he doesn't like to set goals when it comes to field goals.
"Obviously, I'd like to make all of them," Buehler said. "Chris always talks about 'go one for one.' See every kick as an individual kick, and go from there. That's kind of my mindset right now."
Tutelage from former Cowboys' kicking coach, Steve Hoffman, helped Boniol tremendously. Now, he wants to pass on all he has learned.
"Once you get to that level as a player there's not much new technique," Boniol said. "There's always something you can study and learn from but I think where Hoff helped me a lot is just having someone in your corner that encourages you and somebody who can help you on the day to day stuff: how to do it on the field, in the weight room, in the locker room. You get a young player that doesn't know how to be a professional and there's a lot to learn, especially in an organization like the Cowboys."
By the way, if anybody else wants to try out, brush up first at the Chris Boniol Kicking Camp The soccer style kicking development camp runs from June 12-16.
Buehler's main competition so far comes from Connor Hughes. Hughes knows that he has a lot to prove if he plans on winning over the Cowboys.
"Obviously, I want to make it. I'm not here to try and out-kick Buehler by any means. He's a special kid. He's a linebacker [type] that kicks the football on kickoffs. I'm just here to make field goals. I want to compete, kick the ball well and make it a real [hard] decision for the coaches."
Kicker/punter Delbert Alvarado was signed as a UDFA out of South Florida after the draft. Having his versatility in practice gives the Cowboys another leg in case one of the kickers has a hammy issue, like Hughes has had.
At the rookie camp, Hughes was limited because he's rehabbing from a left hamstring injury.
"It's a little strain in my plant leg," Hughes said. "But that's pretty much gone. It's just about me getting back out there and getting through the motions and shaking it out a bit."
Said Cowboys kicking consultant Chris Boniol: "Right now, we're just trying to get him healthy. We know he's a good kicker, but until he gets completely healthy, there's not much that we can tell. The injury affects distance more than accuracy. It has some effect, but on the kicks he's made, he's done pretty good."
Hughes hasn't yet stuck with an NFL team, but he did have a rather productive college career.
Hughes set Virginia records in points (332), field goals made (66), attempted (79), extra points made (134) and extra points attempted (138). His 83.5 percent accuracy rate on field goals was second in school history.
He spent training camp with New Orleans in 2006 and was with Pittsburgh in 2007. He kicked in the Arena Football League for Philadelphia in 2008.
With the way Nick Folk has performed during New York's OTAs, it sounds as if the Cowboys made the right choice in releasing him.
It's too soon to say the Jets have a kicking crisis, but Rex Ryan admitted he's concerned. Former Cowboys PK Nick Folk, whom they're counting on to replace Jay Feely (Cards), was brutal. At one point, he missed three straight from about 40 yards.
Said Ryan: "Yeah, it concerns me. We'd all feel a lot better if they decided to make a few." Folk, of course, was run out of Dallas last season because he imploded late in the season. That Feely decision could backfire on the Jets in a big way.
A BTB hat tip to Leon for the FanShot.
So, who else is out there? Scout.com ranks their top 13 free agent kickers for this offseason. Only Shayne Graham and 20-year vets Matt Stover and John Carney are still available.
The most interesting name may be Graham. In '09 Graham hit 23 of 28 field goals with a long of 53. Last offseason the Bengals placed their franchise tag on him. It seems the team soured on Graham after he missed a couple of field goals in their 24-14 playoff loss to the Jets.
Graham's kicks in particular ended any hopes of a Bengals rally. He missed two fairly routine field goal attempts of 42 and 28 yards in the second half that kept the game out of reach.
Cincinnati is content with moving on from the 8-year vet to instead stage a kicking duel between Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner.
As for Carney, well--he's about seven years Boniol's senior and may elect to retire or coach.
Kicker John Carney started the 2009 season as the Saints kicker and ended it as the Saints' kicking coach. The team called on him after starter Garrett Hartley was busted for violating the NFL's substance-abuse program and suspended for four games.
He made 13 of 17 field goals and 50 of 52 extra points but was ultimately replaced by Hartley after 11 games. After 21 years in the NFL, Carney might retire now that he's won a Super Bowl with the Saints.
Todd Archer points towards Indianapolis. Stover is a decent emergency option, but what if Adam Vinatieri happens to get cut?
He might be vulnerable in Indianapolis because of age, price and roster flexibility.
Some of those concerns would be the same with the Cowboys, except price. He is scheduled to make $2 million this year for the Colts. He would have to take significantly less if he were to signed by another team if he is cut. He has kicked in big games and made some of the biggest kicks in the NFL in recent memory. He was 7-of-9 last year but missed a ton of time with a knee injury that kept Stover active during Indy's playoff run.
Vinatieri recently participated in the Colts' voluntary mini-camp though.
Vinatieri also said he was healthier after undergoing surgery on his kicking knee last fall. The best clutch kicker in league history made a brief late-season appearance after the injury, then was replaced in the playoffs by veteran Matt Stover.
It is almost sickening to know the Cowboys made just 20 of 31 field goals last year. And they hit less than 50% between 40-49! What's up with that?
Pickings are slim, which is why the Cowboys can afford to wait and see how Buehler develops. But if you know something about Hughes, vote for him. Is Graham too much of a choke artist for the Cowboys to even bring in for a workout? What about the graybeards, Stover and Carney? How about bringing in a youngster like Tiffin?
Oh, how the Nick Folk-of-old had us spoiled. Now, it's back to the drawing board for a new, hopefully consistent field goal remedy.