You never know when a story is going to pop up out of the blue.
One did a week ago while I was out, and rather fortuitously since we're sort of scraping the bottom of the barrel during this rather dead period in the NFL before the Cowboys report to training camp on July 24.
This text shows up on my cellphone:
"Hi Mickey. You guys just signed my kicker, Brandon Aubrey. Great kid. I was the special teams coordinator this year in Birmingham. Chris Boniol."
No way. Who knew? You guys remember Chris Boniol, right? He was the Cowboys' very proficient kicker from 1994-96, winning a Super Bowl ring during that 1995 season and making 88.2 percent of his field goals with a career-high 93.8 percent during his 1995 Pro Bowl season. He also served first as the Cowboys' kicking consultant in 2010 and then as the team's special teams/kicking assistant from 2011-13. And he was the guy in that 2011 season, during the Cowboys desperate and extensive search for a kicker, advocating for this undrafted, raw rookie out of Oklahoma State named Dan Bailey. Put his neck on the line, trusting his kicking expertise. Boy, was he right.
Well, after working as an assistant to the special teams coach and kicking coach for Tampa Bay from 2019 through this past season, which included bagging another Super Bowl ring when the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV, he served as the Birmingham Stallions special teams coach in the USFL under Skip Holtz, the Louisiana Tech head coach from 2013-21, Boniol's alma mater.
Voila, Brandon Aubrey, a collegiate soccer player at Notre Dame and the defender playing professionally for Toronto FC in the MLS for a year and then Bethlehem Steel of the United Soccer League for a year. He then decided to try his foot in professional football, actually getting drafted by Birmingham of the USFL in the 2022 season and then kicking in 2023 under the guidance of Boniol during the Stallions second consecutive USFL championship season.
Now he's with the Cowboys, the former first-round MLS selection a rookie free agent competing at this point with Tristan Vizcaino for the team's kicking job.
"Great kid," Boniol said of the kicker the Cowboys brought in following the USFL season. "He's definitely got the talent. He's definitely got the skills. Good leg strength. Has a chance to be competitive."
That's exactly what the Cowboys are looking for from the 28-year-old from Plano, Texas, not far from The Star. His USFL numbers for a guy who has been a soccer player are impressive. Aubrey made 18 of 22 field goals his first season with the Stallions and 22 of 24 extra points. This past year he went 14 of 15 on field goals and nailed every one of his 35 extra point attempts.
Here are the other two points you're looking for in a kicker:
"He has a good kickoff leg," said Boniol, pointing out he could send a kickoff from the 20-yard line, where they kick off in the USFL, five yards into the end zone if they wanted him to, though directional and hang time in the USFL is extremely important.
Then there is this: "Phenomenal demeanor," meaning Aubrey will blend in with the team, which includes an even temperament. And sure didn't hurt that Aubrey was able to hook up with Boniol, owning a ton of experience coaching kickers with the Raiders, Mississippi State and those four seasons with the Bucs. Not to mention getting started in the coaching business through kicking camps and private instruction.
So look, the Cowboys had some insider info on Aubrey thanks to Boniol, saying Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel reached out to him during the season, and that he "even popped up one day for a game." Plus, as Boniol says after coaching in the USFL this year and having a blast, "We have an obligation to not only win games, but to develop players and help them find an opportunity."
Well, here is an opportunity, but a tough one when considering last year's kicker, Brett Maher, made 29 of 32 field goals during the regular season. Hey, that's 90.2 percent. And 50 of 53 extra points before developing the yips in the playoff win over Tampa Bay, missing four extra points. Which I was reminded of the other night while watching a rerun of the _Jimmy Kimmel Show_ that aired right after the game, running video of every one of Maher's misses.
As previously pointed out, the Cowboys were mighty spoiled by Maher making 90 percent of his field goals, including going nine of 11 from 50-plus yards.
"Well, here is a guy who made 92 percent of his kicks," Boniol said, and doing a good job of preparing Aubrey for this opportunity. "Teaching him you are going into a situation to compete, not only in camp but against the entire league."
Who knows, the Cowboys might have to take a _shot_ at bringing in a tag team here, kicker and coach.
· Feeling A Draft: Only this one by NFL.com pertains to the draft of current NFL players, giving you an idea of what another person thinks of the Cowboys' roster talent by using the 2023 draft order and a "team win-now" particular needs criteria for selections. Quarterback Dak Prescott was the ninth pick in the first round, going to Carolina. The first eight picks were all quarterbacks, in order Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Aaron Rodgers, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson, another illustration of quarterback importance. Cowboys "lionbacker" Micah Parsons went 15th to the Packers, just the fourth non-quarterback selected. At 27, the Cowboys were given wide receiver Stephon Diggs. Guard Zack Martin became the third pick in the second round to San Francisco and CeeDee Lamb 49th overall to Washington. So just three Cowboys among the top-50 selections. Only five other Cowboys players were selected: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, 94th, to San Francisco; cornerback Trevon Diggs, 121st, to Atlanta; wide receiver Brandin Cooks, 152nd, to Minnesota; defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, 182nd, to Tennessee; and Tyron Smith, 219th, to, uh, the Cowboys. Hmmm, no Pro Bowlers like Tyler Biadasz, Tony Pollard or KaVontae Turpin, and tell you what, me, I'd wouldn't have overlooked guys such as Tyler Smith, Terence Steele, Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson on my team somewhere among the top 224 players in the league.
· Running In Place: Teams must be waiting for the start of training camp or to incur an injury because Ezekiel Elliott isn't the only veteran running back still out there in free agency. There's a Formidable Foursome available, including Zeke, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt. Maybe these veterans, though, might want to skip training camp and preseason games before signing on the dotted line. Chalk that up to experience.
And this week's last word goes to Prescott from his football camp held at The Star in Frisco, Texas, outlining his next couple of weeks before reporting to Oxnard, California, for the start of the Cowboys training camp.
When asked if he's been working out with his receivers any since the end of the June minicamp, Dak said, "Coming up this week, coming up this week. I mean, I've actually been fortunate. Me and a couple of the guys just ran into each other, been at Nike Camp this last week – me, CeeDee, (Jalen) Tolbert, Cooks got together. Also happened to be in Portland, but then my trip is this week coming up."
Meaning taking the guys out for a getaway week of work and fellowship to an undisclosed location before the start of training camp.
"Being away from the guys for two weeks, having this week to come together and being away another two weeks before we get together, just making sure we understand the importance, the urgency of now, of hitting the camp running.," Dak said. "We had the install, we had the OTAs the way that we did and now it's for a reason to make sure we've got everything in and mentally sharp. We've got to make sure that we hit Day One of training camp in full stride. And I think that's what this week is, getting together, throwing, having the comradery, just breaking bread as brothers, and making sure we get together and commit to each other now, understanding that we're going to need each other late in the year.
"Looking forward to it."