FRISCO, Texas – In honor of the FIFA Women's World Cup, let's kick a few things around.
In fact, let's start with kicker.
This occurred to me this morning, reading how the Chicago Bears basically are holding a three-man kicking contest at the start of minicamp. Here are, er, were, the candidate names: Chris Blewitt, Eddy Pineiro, Elliott Fry. Probably not real familiar with any of 'em. But that's where the Bears are after banishing former kicker Cody Parkey, whose double-bounce off the goalpost in the final seconds eliminated them from last season's playoffs, and then after whittling down an original eight-man field this offseason.
Well, during Tuesday's first minicamp practice, all three remaining kickers missed consecutively from 40-plus yards out, and a frustrated head coach Jim Nagy, cutting the unfortunately named Blewitt, illustrating two things for sure:
There are not a lot of NFL-ready, well-known quality kickers just hanging out looking for jobs, sort of highlighting Bill Parcells' favorite saying when looking for a replacement player that, "You can't just go down to the neighborhood Texaco station and get one."
And then, how fortunate the Cowboys were last summer that they had brought in kicker/punter Brett Maher, ostensibly to lessen the workload for Dan Bailey and Chris Jones during training camp, ultimately having someone to fall back on when Bailey began to sort of mentally wilt and struggle with accuracy.
Yep, the Cowboys had the nerve to cut the veteran Bailey, only the NFL's one-time most accurate kicker in history for a guy who had never kicked in the NFL. Leap of faith?
Well, that brings us to today: Maher is the incumbent, and while they've brought in more of a punter than a placekicker in Kasey Redfern, the Cowboys better hope Maher is ready to improve on his 80.6 percent accuracy last season (29 of 36) since, frankly, there is slim pickin's out there for someone else. Just ask the Bears.
But here is the good news. This is the first of the past seven offseasons the 29-year-old Maher isn't out there scrounging for a job. Instead of going from tryout to tryout, the U.S. to Canada to play, he has spent this offseason training, conditioning and working on his technique.
"First time I've taken a break in January," Maher says. "I feel fresh."
Remember, after missing his first career NFL attempt in the season opener last year, Maher proceeded to make 16 straight field goals, including two from at least 50 yards, before missing from 52 off the upright on the game-winning attempt in Game 7 against the Redskins that he had already made from 47, but wiped out by that B.S. call on snapper L.P. Ladouceur for lifting the ball.
Strength matters, and after making 16 of 18 the first seven games, Maher finished the last nine regular-season games 13 of 18, including franchise–records of 59 and 62 yards, with one of those misses a blocked attempt.
"Not really had an offseason since college," Maher says, "helps with longevity through the season."
Yep, that's a good thing, and good that the Cowboys found him.
Ask Da' Bears.
- Backup Comeback: The Cowboys backup quarterback candidates Cooper Rush and Mike White had rough Tuesdays the first day of the three-day minicamp, combining for four interceptions (Rush 3, White 1). But both had better days on Wednesday, and both finished the practice-ending, two-minute drills with touchdown passes. First Rush, on a fourth-and-4 from the 9-yard line with 1 second left, rolling right and deftly lobbing the ball to Lance Lenior in the back corner of the end zone. And then White, with 37 seconds left, nailing Devin Smith in the back of the end zone on a 28-yarder.
- It's Practice: Not only for the players, but also for the coaching staff, and especially for new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. When the Cowboys go into their team periods of practice, the first-time offensive coordinator uses a hand-held transmitter to send in the plays to the quarterbacks through their helmet communication devises. That takes some getting used to, and for the most part things seem to be going smoothly. But it's a different story when you know the device isn't being cut off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
- Pro's Pro: When anyone is commenting on the newly-acquired veteran receiver Randall Cobb, the word Pro invariably comes up. Head coach Jason Garrett has called him a "pro's pro." New quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna says, "He's just a pro." And this from Amari Cooper: "A playmaker, a great player." But maybe this best illustrates how all in the 28-year-old receiver really is. When talking with special teams coach Keith O'Quinn, he says it was Cobb who came to him, saying he really would like to throw his hat in on returning punts. And there he is, out here in these minicamp practices catching punts with the youngsters.
- Tightening Up: Here is one position there hasn't been much discussion about, but sure seems encouraging. Tight end. And this not just because 16th-year veteran Witten has un-retired. Sure, Witten has been working with the first-team offense on the two of three days he's practicing during the OTAs and so far during the first two days of the three-day minicamp. But also impressive in the passing game have been last year's fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin, the undrafted free agent in his third season. All three have played prominent roles during team periods and especially during two-minute drills. Amazing what a year of experience has done for those two young guys.
- Kick Shots: Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, QB Dak Prescott rolling to his right and hitting Cobb for a touchdown on third-and-5 with 11 seconds remaining in a two-minute drill on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday veteran safety Jeff Heath not falling for the play-fake to Ezekiel Elliott, right, Dak keeping to his left, only to have Heath end the series of downs for no gain, prompting an ensuing shoving match, which caused Witten to say, "Competition is good for all of us." … Sure like what we're continuing to see from sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson, coming up with a diving pick on Tuesday and then a fine breakup on Wednesday … And maybe one of the hardest workers out here – and extra on his own – first-year corner Donovan Olumba, an undrafted free agent last year who finished the season on the practice squad, has come up with a pick in each of the minicamp practices so far working with the second-team defense.
Producing in even minicamp practices count.
Go ask Blewitt.