At this time last year, the Dallas Cowboys were trying to decide who would be their placekicker for the 2022 season. A training camp battle featured rookie Jonathan Garibay, veteran Lirim Hajrullahu, and finally former castoff Brett Maher. The job was ultimately handed to Maher, who had a career season in Dallas, proving many doubters wrong.
Unfortunately for Maher, he suffered the ‘yips’ in the playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and lost the front office’s faith to come back for another run with the team. It forced Dallas to dust off the drawing board they thought was put away last summer and start looking for another solution at kicker.
After speaking with longtime NFL kicker Nick Novak in an interview, he feels Dallas already has their guy on the roster.
“All they need to do is get playing time and get more experience to be a guy in that top five, like a Jason Meyers or Robbie Gould...they just need to play.”
The ‘they’ Novak refers to are Cowboys kickers Tristan Vizcaino and Brandon Aubrey. Vizcaino was on the practice squad during the playoffs as an insurance kicker and re-signed with the team as one of their first signings of the offseason. Aubrey signed after his second season in the USFL and his second championship with the Birmingham Stallions.
Novak was kicking in the NFL as a rookie in 2005 and retired in 2020. Since then, he’s become a coach for players at his position around the NFL, USFL, XFL, CFL, and younger levels with his own company, Novak Kicking and Consulting. He has worked with both Cowboys kickers for at least two years and recently worked with Vizcaino this offseason at least three times a week.
To say he knows these guys well would be selling it short.
“Tristan is a proven veteran now. Very strong [and] very accurate. He’s at a point in his career where he’s been through the ups and downs of the league and having to stick with it and hang in there...He’s a big-leg guy that’s gonna give you a great kickoff and hangtime.
Aubrey is just coming off a great season with the USFL and showed his consistency and did just as well last year...It’s gonna be a great situation for the Cowboys. Two guys that are very solid not only on the field but off [and] I think mentally tough guys that have the right mindset.”
The road to finding the 2023 kicker started on Monday, with the first padded practice. Special teams coordinator John Fassel said he didn’t want to start the competition until the players were in pads.
All eyes were on the competition, with both men trying to find their footing going against each other. Vizcaino and Aubrey were given seven attempts each, ending with both players converting five and missing two. The missed attempts for Vizcaino were from 33 and 45 yards, and Aubrey was wide left from 43 and 45 yards.
However, after shaking off the cobwebs, both kickers came back during the first Mojo moment period going three for three with the longest distance being 48 yards.
Both Cowboys kickers, Brandon Aubrey and Tristan Vizcaino, made all three of their kicks during the Mojo Moment portion of practice, longest coming from 48 yards pic.twitter.com/MAha1I80it— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) July 31, 2023
To separate themselves from one another, each kicker will need to lean on a strength the other one might lack. For Aubrey, coming from the world of soccer taught him about performing under pressure and kicking with a purpose.
While at Notre Dame University as a part of the soccer team, Aubrey was five of five in penalty kick attempts. That shows an ability to step up for your team when the lights are at their brightest and stay consistent in your mechanics. Novak feels those skills will translate well for him at the next level.
“I definitely think the guys who want the ball and to take those free kicks, be in a penalty shootout, those are the guys that ultimately are the most competent,” said Novak. “They believe that they’re gonna make that goal and to be a successful NFL kicker, you got to want the ball on fourth down when you’re in field goal range.”
Even though Vizcaino doesn’t have a soccer background or experience in penalty kicks, he has been around the NFL for a while now and has heard from many coaches and voices to help him along the way. Not to mention he’s been working with Trent Sieg and Bryan Anger the longest on their operation mechanics.
“It’s gonna help him greatly,” Novak said about Vizcaino’s experience with Sieg and Anger. “Building that relationship between snapper and punter...the camaraderie and cohesiveness going into training camp certainly helps your confidence...I’ve played in a lot of games where I got signed a week in advance or a couple of days in advance, and you get the job done, but there’s something to be said about keeping the three guys together year after year if you can.”
Regardless of the competition, Novak continues reiterating his confidence in the players he’s coached. Last year’s competition brought a lot of unknowns, and the Cowboys were just fine at the position until the Wild Card matchup in Tampa Bay. There are just as many unknowns entering these first padded training camp practices.
Rest easy remembering that if Coach Fassel can squeeze the most out of Maher and his potential as the kicker in Dallas, there’s no reason to doubt that Vizcaino or Aubrey can follow in his footsteps while also understanding the nature of the business.
“Having worked with these guys in the offseason and being teammates, it’s going to help them compete in this competition...I have no doubt whatsoever whether it’s Tristan that’s been bouncing around or Brandon playing in the USFL, but with the nature of the business you do as much as you can to prepare, and when you get the opportunity to go in [the game], you make the most of it. You want to string together a career, not a few games or an offseason.”
The 2023 season will hopefully be the start of a long career in Dallas for either of them.