Sunday's practice was not a great one for the Cowboys' kickers, but there have been few pretty days for the position as a whole so far.
Incumbent David Buehler went 3-for-4 in the session, while rookie challenger Dan Bailey made only one of his four attempts and has leveled off after a hot start in training camp. Coaches hinted focus may have been an issue for some players at practice on Sunday.
"They're both young players," special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. "Sometimes young players after nights off don't come back with the same kind of enthusiasm and the same kind of focus, and they have to both understand that they're under evaluation every day, and they've both got to show up for work every single day."
At this point, the Cowboys seem to be in some danger of having a kicker win the competition by default. Neither has taken a commanding lead over the other, but the battle can last all the way up to final cuts.
"I don't know, necessarily, establish themselves, but we want them to be their best," Jason Garrett said. "We want them to make their kicks. We want them to make a hard decision for us. Each of them has done a nice job - each of them has also been inconsistent at times. So we'll continue to evaluate them."
Garrett said there was no rush to make a choice. The Cowboys also have one prospective kicker who has yet to practice, rookie Kai Forbath, who is currently rehabbing from a quad injury."
Early in camp Jerry Jones said he was open to keeping two legs, as the team did in 2009, but that is looking less and less necessary. Bailey handled kickoffs in Thursday's preseason opener, launching the ball into the end zone on all five of his chances, including two that were taken for touchbacks. Of the three that were taken out, the Broncos' average starting position was just shy of their 16-yard line.
If Bailey proves to be more reliable on field goals, Buehler's advantage as a kickoff specialist may be erased. Moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line has definitely leveled the playing field, though DeCamillis said Buehler still has an edge because he can create more hangtime, making kicks easier to cover.
"Our coverage team is starting five yards closer, so we can get them down inside the 20," Buehler said. "I know Joe D. wants to get greedy with it. ... If you hang it high and one yard deep, I would want the returner to bring it out, honestly, because we have a hell of a cover team and guys can get down there and tackle them inside the 20."
DeCamillis said he was still weighing the pros and cons of the new rule and wouldn't decide the best way to treat kickoffs until the preseason ended. During their game against Buffalo on Saturday night, the Chicago Bearsnelected to kick from 30-yard line to better evaluate young players, which DeCamillis said he wished he had thought of before the NFL stepped in to stop it.
"I think that was a great idea on their part," DeCamillis said. "I think you're still going to get positive plays, I just don't think there are going to be as many."