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2023 Cowboys roster breakdown: Special teams

The Cowboys have questions to answer on special teams like who is the next kicker, what role will KaVontae Turpin play, and how will Trent Sieg do as the long-snapper.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Mike McCarthy is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but his first since taking over the offensive play-calling. Since coming to Dallas, McCarthy has led the Cowboys to consecutive 12-win seasons, but they’ve failed to reach the NFC Championship Game both years.

After getting a little more aggressive this offseason in an attempt to get over the hump, the Cowboys are hoping for a big 2023 season. In anticipation of that, let’s take an in-depth look at every position on the roster. To wrap up this roster breakdown series, it’s time for the special teams.

A solution at kicker?

The Cowboys officially lost the right to bring back Brett Maher when the Broncos snatched him, but Dallas closed that door a long time ago. They’ve only recently opened the door for kicker Brandon Aubrey, who played soccer most of his life before switching to football by way of the USFL the past two seasons.

Aubrey was a productive kicker there, and the Texas native now gets to return home and pursue his NFL dreams. He’ll have to compete with Tristian Vizcaino much in the same way Jonathan Garibay did with Lirim Hajrullahu a year ago.

Of course, neither kicker won the job that time around, and Maher was brought in with great success. Thus, Cowboys fans will have to see it to believe it when it comes to Aubrey, especially with more seasoned options - Robbie Gould or Mason Crosby, anyone? - still available.

KaVontae Turpin’s development

KaVontae Turpin was signed almost immediately after the conclusion of the first USFL season, which saw the diminutive receiver and return specialist win league MVP. He then kicked off a gigantic hype machine when he returned both a kick and punt for a touchdown in a preseason game.

Turpin failed to score during the regular season, but he was one of the NFL’s most electric returners last year and was named to the Pro Bowl for his efforts. Turpin began to slow down later in the year, but it’s been pointed out that he had no real offseason after coming over from the USFL. In total, Turpin played in 32 games throughout 2022 between the USFL and the NFL’s preseason, regular season, and postseason.

Now, Turpin has had a proper offseason, as well as more time in the Cowboys’ strength & conditioning program. He is still very much a developing talent, so it’ll be curious to see how he grows after his experiences last year. He was already a threat in 2022, but Turpin could become a dangerous force this year.

The punt game is special

John Fassel has gained a reputation as one of the more aggressive special teams coordinators in the league, frequently going after punters in search of a block. While Dallas only recorded one blocked punt last year, they did a better job of pressuring punters than any other team:

The Cowboys’ punt pressure rate of 19.7% was far and away the best in the NFL. That’s an impressive metric for Dallas, and an indicator of just how good Fassel has made this bunch after inheriting one of the worst special teams units when he arrived.

That said, not everything is perfect. Cowboys punter Bryan Anger was pressured at the sixth-highest rate last year, which isn’t ideal. However, the fact that Anger didn’t have a single punt get blocked - and, actually, he hasn’t been blocked since the 2018 season - is a testament to how good he is, in addition to the rest of this special teams group.

Between the punt block team, Anger, and Turpin, Fassel has this group firing on all cylinders. It has to be considered one of the team’s strengths, even if they’re not on the field that often.

Is C.J. Goodwin still the ace?

C.J. Goodwin has been a mainstay on special teams since joining the Cowboys late in the 2018 season. He almost immediately became an ace for the team, and quickly cemented that role once Fassel showed up. With the increased emphasis on special teams ability under Fassel, Goodwin became an easy roster lock, even if he was technically a preseason cut last year due to roster management magic.

But Goodwin is 33 years old, making him the second oldest player on the team behind Anger. His usage in 2022 marked career highs on special teams in both total snaps played (343) and snap share (72%), but can he keep that pace going forward?

Both Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright have gained extensive experience on special teams, and are likely to be bound to a similar role in 2023, assuming each of them make the roster. Rookie Eric Scott Jr. is also expected to contribute on special teams, creating a crowded room on special teams.

Goodwin has yet to show any decline in reliability, and there’s nothing yet to suggest the team has soured on him. But if this turns into a number game (as it usually does), Goodwin could find himself holding the short end of the stick.

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