FRISCO, Texas - With the offseason practices – both OTAs and minicamps – all done for the Cowboys this offseason, there is a lengthy break between now and the start of training camp, which begins July 24 in Oxnard.
But that doesn't mean there aren't questions on the table at each position. Each day, we will take a deep dive into each spot on the field, analyzing the top battles, the key players and some bold predictions. Today, we continue with the special teams.
What needs to go right?: Finding success late in the season was hard to come by for the special teams group in 2022, and it has the group holding more question marks than answers going into 2023. In addition to Brett Maher missing six of his final seven extra point attempts of the season, Pro Bowl returner KaVontae Turpin had lapses both in the punt and kick return game late in 2022, including missing a wide open hole late in the divisional loss to San Francisco that could have theoretically tied the game. Remaining consistent when it matters could trickle down to the whole team, but it's specifically something that needs to go right for the special teams group.
Biggest Question: Who is going to be the starting kicker? Tristan Vizcaino remains as the only kicker on the roster, but it is all but certain that the Cowboys will add at least one more body to that group for a training camp competition. Vizcaino doesn't have a ton of NFL experience, but his youth paired with his proven range has the franchise circling the 26-year-old as a possible long-term option. However, with names like Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould waiting in free agency, it may be more beneficial to roll with a proven boot.
Battle to Watch: Almost immediately after Deuce Vaughn was selected in the sixth round of the draft in April, questions began to populate about if there's any chance he could push KaVontae Turpin for reps in the return game. With Turpin coming off a Pro Bowl appearance in 2022, the safe answer is no. However, if Vaughn can live up to his hype both on offense and in his limited reps in the return game, it could make sense from a roster management standpoint to roll with the rookie.
Bold Prediction: Anyone could throw a dart at all of the options at kicker going into training camp and would probably come out with a reasonable option. With so many names still in free agency and the USFL still ongoing, the Cowboys will have a multitude of options. However, Mason Crosby is the name that makes the most sense. The 16-year veteran has experience with Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and is also a Texas native. Could he return home to Dallas to wrap up his storied career?
Biggest Challenge: Starting off hot will be important to whoever suits up as the kicker in 2023. Regardless of who takes over, the leash will be short and early consistency will be required to quiet any concerns going into the meat of a 17-game regular season.
Key Stat: 78 - Of Brett Maher's 100 kickoffs in 2022, a league-leading 78 resulted in a touchback. With new kickoff rules making it easier to secure a touchback in 2023, teams may be looking to stay even further away from Dallas' stiff kick coverage team, regardless of who is the kicker.