As we finish off the series here looking for spots in which the Cowboys improved, we now pose the same question about the special teams unit. Did the Cowboys improve?
2014: Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur, Chris Jones, Dwayne Harris, C.J. Spillman
2015: Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur, Chris Jones, Lucky Whitehead, Danny McCray
PK- Dan Bailey
The beacon of consistency, Dan Bailey, was at one point last season the NFL's most accurate kicker in history. Though he had a few misses during the season, he was still as "money" as ever for the most part. PFF graded him a staggering +13.6 which was good enough for 4th highest in the league, only +0.3 off third place. Bailey finished with 86% of his kicks made for the 2014 season. Out of 96 overall kickoffs, 52 of Bailey's resulted in a touchback. So not only was Bailey scoring points but he was keeping the opposing team's field position unfavorable. Dan was pure awesomeness personified and he strives now for a Pro Bowl appearance.
LS- L.P. Ladoucer
Another conductor of consistency for the Cowboys, L.P. made his first Pro Bowl last season. It's been the running joke for a long time in camp to have a long-snapper come in for "competition", only to be cut pretty quickly. The Cowboys have one of the more consistent snappers in the NFL. You never see any fumbled snaps or ball handling issues out of L.P. As the second-oldest player on the team behind Romo, Ladoucer has shown no signs of slowing down.
P- Chris Jones
Jones gets some criticism every now and then due to the fact he isn't anywhere near Matt McBriar in his prime but Jones was in the top 15 punters last season. PFF gave give a +11.0, ranking him 15th and only +3.5 off the top 10. What Jones does well is keep the ball out of the end zone and had 19 punts inside the 20. He only had two touchbacks all season long, which is among the best in the NFL. Jones also gave up far less return yards than a lot of punters ranked ahead of him. He's not a dazzling punter by any means but he has done a nice job for the Cowboys.
KR- Lucky Whitehead
When Dwayne Harris found more money in free agency, he left a huge hole in the return game for this team. Whitehead obviously sees a tremendous opportunity in front of him. Since coming to Dallas, he hasn't relinquished the stranglehold he's had on that roster spot. Where Harris relied on quickness and ability to break tackles, Whitehead is a pure-speed returner. He certainly has the pedigree for the position too. At Florida Atlantic, Whitehead average 24.6 yards per return and even broke a 73-yard score against Old Dominion. Harris unfortunately never was able to act as a receiving threat, something Whitehead will try to do. Whitehead comes in with polished route-running skills and caught 76 passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns while in school. At 5'10, 163 lbs, Whitehead may need a little more muscle but the Cowboys have been pretty good at using smaller receivers. Lucky will get his opportunities in the preseason and camp to show everyone he means business.
ST Ace- Danny McCray
Spillman was on a one-year deal and the Cowboys have moved on. However, the familiar face that is McCray will be roaming the special teams unit once again. McCray was always very solid on special teams and will help spell the loss that was the Cowboys' Swiss-army knife in Dwayne Harris. McCray is a good tackler and like Jeff Heath should never see extended duty, but fits a role for this team at a cheap price.
My take: This unit could take a step back because the Harris loss is big. Though McCray and guys like Andrew Gachkar will step in to help mask that a little more, this unit will need a quality returner. Now, if Whitehead (or someone else) emerges as a real threat in the return game and can play the gunner, things could really get cooking for Rich Bisaccia. The special teams have not been a major issue in Dallas for a while now, credit to the coaching staff for trying to plug some of the losses on special teams. You could also make a case for Mark Nzeocha and Damien Wilson being a difference-maker for Bisaccia. In the end, though, it will almost all depend on the emergence of a return man.