(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – Special teams always feels like an afterthought, right up until it costs you a game.
It's a fun little quirk of football. Special teams, statistically speaking, is the smallest of the three phases of the game, but it can often have the biggest impact. Field goals regularly decide games, and small miscues in the kicking game can often swing the outcome.
The Cowboys have enjoyed solid performances on special teams for years now -- but 2018 promises to look a bit different. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia departed for Oakland right after the 2017 season. In the months since, he's done a great job of accumulating his old standouts, as several key pieces of the Cowboys' special teams have joined him with the Raiders.
It might not feel like a big change, but the organization of the special teams is going to look different for the first time in a long time -- which raises another question:
17) Will special teams defections be a problem?
David Helman: It's an underrated loss for this team, given how solid the special teams were during Rich Bisaccia's tenure. Over the past few years, you could always count on a handful of game-changing plays per season – whether that was a blocked punt by Kyle Wilber, a clutch field goal from Dan Bailey, a crucial return or maybe a fake punt from Chris Jones. Bisaccia's gone and he took some key special teamers like Wilber and Keith Smith with him. But at the end of the day, I think the heart and soul of special teams comes down to your three specialists, and I think the Cowboys have as good a trio as there is in Bailey, Jones and L.P. Ladouceur. On top of that, Tavon Austin has the potential to be this team's most dynamic return man since Dwayne Harris. I think they'll be fine.
Bryan Broaddus: I had the upmost respect for Rich Bisaccia and what he was able to accomplish. His attention to detail and fiery demeanor was a perfect addition to the sideline on game day. Where Bisaccia will be missed is in his ability to have something special in the game plan each week. He was able to convince the normally conservative Jason Garrett to think outside the box and take a few more risks. I believe this unit will also miss the likes of Kyle Wilber, Keith Smith and James Hanna. None of these players were spectacular, but you could always count on them to come up with a key block or turnover during the season to turn a game around. Keith O'Quinn and Doug Colman are going to be responsible for not only developing ideas for the weekly game plan but also a new group of core players from one of the youngest rosters in the league.
Lindsay Draper: Losing a strong contributor is always a problem. On every team, in every sport. But special teams are sneaky, because sometimes the strongest contributions go unnoticed. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia took three with him to Oakland – Kyle Wilber, Ryan Switzer and Keith Smith. These are big losses. Kyle Wilber was continually awarded in front of his team after games for his big plays. Ryan Switzer found his biggest rookie moments during teams. And Keith Smith? The guy was cut and re-signed 20 times by this club, and we know the entryway to a roster spot is by grinding through special teams. Wilber and Smith got things done under the surface – they did the hard things you don't see on TV, or watching the game in real time. Replacing those two veterans will be tough to do in the turnover of one season.
Rob Phillips:It's an interesting question because there's been a lot of turnover, starting at the top with Bisaccia leaving. But I think Keith O'Quinn is ready for this opportunity to run the special teams, and he'll have the group ready. There are players on the roster with the experience and ability to replace Ryan Switzer on returns, and Tavon Austin is the one I think of first. Guys will have to step up and replace Kyle Wilber and Keith Smith on the coverage units, but guys like Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier are back to help that group. It's also an opportunity for rookies and younger players to make the team and contribute. Can Chris Covington help there? Bo Scarbrough? This is their chance.