Back in January of 2009, the Dallas Cowboys went searching for a coach who could improve their special teams. The Bruce Read coaching era was a disaster for the unit, and the Cowboys knew they had to get someone who was at the top of the game. They landed one of the acknowledged best in the league, Joe DeCamillis. Coach Joe D. is a fan-favorite among anybody who has ever attended one of the Cowboys training camp practices. Loud and in charge, DeCamillis lets it be known on every special teams run-through whether he's happy with the way the players executed the play.
One things is for sure, he's never completely happy, so the guy keeps trying to learn more. To that end, he visits with the guru of special teams on the college level, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer.
Last month, DeCamillis took another visit to Blacksburg, Va., to meet with Beamer and his staff to discuss the ins and outs of the kicking game. Over the last 10 years, starting when DeCamillis was on Dan Reeves' staff in Atlanta, he said there have been at least four visits with Beamer's staff at Virginia Tech.
The Cowboys special teams were a mixed-bag in 2010. There were parts of the unit that were outstanding, others were bad. DeCamillis has to get it fixed for the Cowboys to get where they want to go in 2011. To wit:
Last year, the Cowboys ranked 28th in kick returns, with an average starting field position of the 24.7 yard line.
28th out of 32 teams is obviously not where it needs to be, and probably a stat that eats DeCamilis up inside. Dallas has been reluctant to use Felix Jones at the spot now that he is the presumed starting running back. Dez Bryant is also a guy they don't want to risk on such a high-collision play. Last year, it was primarily Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Bryan McCann's job. While McCann certainly had his moments on punt returns, his kickoff returns were mostly average. Ditto AOA. Could new running back DeMarco Murray be in line to get a crack at the return position?
For the rest of the units, they were average to very good.
... they did rank 11th in kickoff coverage, forcing teams to start at the 25.9 yard line on kickoffs. In the punting game, the Cowboys were one of the best units in the NFL. Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar led the NFL in both average (47.9) and net average (41.7). On the flip side, the Cowboys ranked second in punt-return average with a 15.9 average, thanks largely to a pair of touchdowns by rookie Dez Bryant.
In this draft, DeMarco Murray could be used in the return game. Perhaps Josh Thomas could make some noise on special teams. Bruce Carter was also a standout special teams guy at North Carolina.
Carter will also be asked to play special teams. At UNC he blocked seven kicks, six punts and one field goal and returned four blocked punts for a 7.75 average.
"I was able to get my hands on a couple of blocks and just help my team out any way I can," Carter said. "Just give a great effort and that is one of the things coach [Butch] Davis taught us just to go out and give everything you got, you never know what could happen."
In addition to visiting Frank Beamer , DeCamillis is taking other trips to improve the unit
While Virginia Tech might be the standard when it comes to the collegiate ranks, DeCamillis is spreading his knowledge - and hoping to add to it - by visiting a few more colleges this offseason. Along with VT, DeCamillis met with about six coaches at UTEP and is expected to meet with Baylor coaches next week. And later in the summer, DeCamillis said he is hopeful to get up to Boise State and Oregon.