It’s a subject that has been analyzed to death - the Cowboys poor special teams play. Keith O’Quinn, the Cowboy special teams coordinator from last year, was given much of the blame. But as always, when a unit is failing in the NFL, you also need to look at the players. Cowboys management obviously stuck with kicker Brett Maher much too long last year and that cost the Cowboys. Punter Chris Jones had a very poor year that was partly caused by injury and that seems like another mistake by management not to shut him down and bring in a replacement. Up and down the chain, from management, to the coaching, to the players, special teams was a disaster.
At least the Cowboys have recognized it and plan to do something about it. Hiring John Fassel to take over the unit is a great start. Now they need to overhaul the players on teams. That’s exactly what they plan to do.
Over the past few days at the combine, the Cowboys have acknowledged a greater emphasis is required this offseason. Coach Mike McCarthy called an added priority on special teams “very important,” an encouraging sign the team is ready to move in the right direction.
“I think when you make the commitment to special teams, your roster needs to reflect that,” McCarthy said. “So that’s something as we get into the evaluation process, even with the draft picks and the veterans that are out there, that we’re — you know, special teams is not just second-nature. They’re not ‘offensive guys that play on special teams.’ So, it’s a focus of ours. I’m excited about what John Fassel brings to our organization.”
So when you are evaluating potential draft picks and free agents, one thing to keep in mind is their ability to play special teams. One guy that could help would be Jeff Heath, if he returned to special teams full time and was replaced in the secondary. Likewise Kavon Frazier might be a backup they look at for teams.
Last year, injuries to Frazier, Heath and Noah Brown sapped the Cowboys special teams of many of their aces. But other teams, like the New England Patriots, have players who are core to special teams and play most of their snaps there.
Since entering the NFL in 2008, [Matthew] Slater has played about 3,000 snaps on special teams and caught one pass. When Patriots wide receivers work on their route-running in practice, the eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro can be found honing his release and hand usage elsewhere for running down kicks.
In 2019, Slater, safety Nate Ebner and running back Brandon Bolden all played more than 300 of the Patriots’ special-teams snaps while having little to no role at their listed roster positions. Cornerback Justin Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowl special teamer, fell short of 300 only because the team didn’t sign him until October.
The Cowboys didn’t have one player over 300 snaps on teams, they were led by C.J. Goodwin at 289.
It’s time for a revival on special teams. Let’s hope the Cowboys spend a draft pick or two, and sign a free agent or two, with an eye toward a big role on special teams.