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Kicking Around All Options

for grooming purposes (James Marten and Doug Free), they did with Folk, recognizing his strong leg and betting on the come line. There should be no assumption Gramatica is toast, and unless something magical kicks in with Folk, a betting man would put his chip on the eight-year veteran since the rookie made just 8 of 16 field-goal attempts between 40-49 yards the past three years at Arizona, though 6 of 11 the past two. 

More than field goals at this point, the Cowboys were attracted to Folk's strong leg on kickoffs in college, and are thinking, well, if he doesn't beat out Gramatica kicking field goals, maybe he can qualify a roster spot as a kickoff specialist while being home-grown on field goals. Phillips already has said he's not predisposed to carrying two kickers on not only his 53-man roster, but game-day roster, too. 

See, the Cowboys saw this: 31 of Folk's 49 kickoffs last year were touchbacks, and if he can replicate that in the NFL, then your kicker might as well take the place of a coverage guy. All sounds good in theory. 

But here's the rub on that. Folk averaged 60.5 yards on kickoffs, though I'm told his hang times at the combine were some of the best. Fine, but in the NFL, you know where 60-yard kickoffs land? Try the 10-yard line. 

Remember, Folk won't be kicking off from the 35, as they do in college. That will be the 30-yard line, and even though he's now the assistant special teams coach with the Dolphins, I can hear Hoffman in my ear all the way from there saying something like, unless those touchbacks in college were flying through the end zone, the guy will struggle in the NFL. 

He means, subtract five yards from those kickoffs for starters. So if the majority of those touchbacks were landing five yards deep, now they're dropping at the goal line. Also factor in those hard-as-rocks, out-of-the-box footballs, which aren't as pliable as the college balls, causing another five-yard reduction. And at least this past season college football reduced its kicking tee from two inches high to the NFL's one, which in Hoffman's eyes previously meant shaving another five yards in the NFL. 

As example, remember the big-legged Sebastian Janikowski coming out of Florida State where he was a touchback machine? Well, the Raiders' first-round pick had just 14 touchbacks on 83 kickoffs his rookie season - although in his third season he actually had six touchbacks in one game. 

In other words, patience might be the key with Folk. Patience with his field goals and patience with his kickoffs if he should not immediately hit the ground kicking. Maybe look at the 22-year-old as an investment in the future. Groom him as they plan to groom the offensive tackles and as they groomed Romo, though to do so takes some intestinal fortitude for such a solo position. 

So we'll see, and we get that initial inspection here in a few days at the mini-camp loaded with rookies and first-year players totaling 30 and six new veterans, including Leonard Davis, Ken Hamlin and Brad Johnson. But look at it this way: While a sixth-round draft choice costs a tad more than those previous rookie free-agent finds of Hoffman, he costs a helluva lot less if he succeeds - even down the road - than forking over $2.5 million for the advertised accomplished kicker. 

Because as the Cowboys found out the hard way, sometimes you just don't get what you pay for these days.                         

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