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The Dallas Cowboys franchise has had plenty of star players. Quarterbacks, running backs, defensive linemen, the team has had them all. Except for maybe one position - kicker. If you look at the top point scorers in league history, you'll find a list littered with kickers. The all-time point scorer in the NFL is currently Morten Andersen with 2,544. Keep going down the list and you'll find other great kickers. But, you'll need to go all the way down to #49 to find a Cowboys kicker on the list (disregarding short-term imports like Eddie Murray or Mike Vanderjagt).
That Cowboy played for Dallas in the late 70's until the mid 80's. It's none other than Rafael Septien who amassed 960 points in his NFL career. Other Cowboys have had decent short-term runs - Chris Boniol hit 87% for a few years in the mid 90's while Richie Cunningham had a brief spell of ‘Happy Days', hitting 80% in the late 90's.
Over the past couple of years, it looked liked the Cowboys might have a kicker who could make the long run and go after Septien as the Cowboys leading kicker. Nick Folk was taken in the 2007 draft out of Arizona in the sixth-round. He was young, and he was accurate - for a time. For those first few years Folk hit clutch kick after clutch kick, and was soon thought of as automatic. He never missed an extra point while playing for Dallas, and his FG% during his first two years was 87%. Then, the 2009 season happened. After offseason hip surgery, Folk was unable to reclaim his previous form. He went 18 for 28 until Dallas released him in December. He was on a stretch of missing 7 of 11 when the ax fell. The Cowboys brought in Shaun Suisham, but he wasn't much better and the team finished with the third-lowest field goal conversion rate, 64.5%.
Once the 2010 offseason hit, the Cowboys had a decision to make. David Buehler was a kickoff specialist who was busy booming kicks for touchbacks in 2009. But the Dallas brain-trust never put him out on the field as the FG/XP guy. Then the Cowboys brought in Connor Hughes for a little competition. It appears the competition is over. Hughes was recently released and the job looks to be Buehler's for 2010.
We know Buehler has a big leg, but that's only part of the battle as the FG guy. You have to be accurate. Going back to his days at USC, Buehler was fairly accurate. He hit 25 of 32 FGs at USC for a rate of 78%. When you look at the stats closer, inside the 40-yard line he was deadly. The problems arose outside of 40 yards where he went a very pedestrian 5 of 10.
In hopes of getting Buehler more confident and accurate with his FGs, the Cowboys brought in the aforementioned Chris Boniol as a kicking consultant earlier this year. From the Dallas Morning News:
The Cowboys added Boniol in March and made Buehler his No. 1 student. According to Boniol, Buehler at that time was like a golfer with only one club in the bag: a driver, which he would swing as hard as possible.
Boniol helped Buehler incorporate technique changes: more of a crouch at the ready position, elimination of a jab step with the left foot, eyes on the spot where the ball will be placed rather than following the snap.
Boniol also impressed on Buehler the importance of the mental aspect of the job, how the kicker must stay under control. Trying to hit every kick as hard as possible was bad form. Buehler said he listened "and soaked it up like a sponge."
The Cowboys made their move this offseason. David Buehler will take on all kicking responsibilities and eliminate the use of two roster spots for the position. He's young and has a huge leg, and Chris Boniol will try to make him accurate.
If all goes to plan, maybe Buehler will be around long enough to go after Rafael Septien.