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Training Camp | 2023

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Mick Shots: Wanting to be dead-solid perfect


OXNARD, Calif. – The subhead in Sunday's paper read like this:

Kickers have tough day.

And they did. Combined, Brandon Aubrey and Tristan Vizcaino went 10 for 21 in Saturday's practice.

By Tuesday Morning, the subhead was this:

Release of Vizcaino leaves untested Aubrey only kicker on roster.

By Wednesday, this is the title we should have seen:

Untested Rookie Kicker Perfect!

But instead, it was this:


And I get it, they taught us in journalism school when judging story importance that it's not the 350 flights landing successfully at said airport, it's the one that slides off the runway.

So for the sake of balance, Aubrey in Tuesday's padded practice made 11 of 11 field goal attempts. And into the wind, that goalpost the ruin of many a kicker out here at the River Ridge Sports Complex during training camp.

And not just made them. Ten of those kicks were dead-solid perfect. Only one started fading a little left but still between the uprights. And believe me, while standing under the crossbar, judging those kicks, that wind even on ground level was hitting me noticeably in the back.

Now none of those 11 attempts were from great distance, all between 33 yards (extra point) and 43 yards, the distances needing to be automatic if a kicker is going to be successful in the NFL. Take last regular season when Brett Maher made 20 of 21 less than 50 yards, his only miss from 46. Maher was nearly automatic until he wasn't on those four missed extra points in the first-round playoff game at Tampa Bay.

No matter the distance, a huge confidence builder for the rookie Aubrey, trying to make this NFL roster in just his third season kicking a football professionally, the previous two in the USFL.

But this is interesting heading toward Saturday's first preseason game, 4 p.m. at AT&T Stadium, now that Aubrey is the lone kicker standing so far in camp. Meaning he will get all the kicks in the game, whether they're extra points, field goals or kickoffs.

The 28-year-old former high school, college (Notre Dame) and professional soccer player (MLS) has never had to compete for an American football kicking job. Not even during his two seasons for the Birmingham Stallions. Said the USFL teams were given only 45 slots to draft from the pool of eligible players. Those teams really couldn't afford to bring in two kickers to compete for the job. So Aubrey was recommended to head coach Skip Holtz, and he stuck.

Here, he's under the gun. And even though he outperformed Vizcaino, who was cut on Monday, Aubrey still is competing against any available or soon-to-be available kicker out there.

So pressure for sure, knowing the margin of error for an inexperienced kicker is slim to none, especially in the preseason games.

And when asked if the pressure is mounting since he's the lone kicker in camp, his answer was good and succinct:

"Absolutely not. It's the same thing. You've got to go out there and perform."

And said that before going 11 of 11 on Tuesday, the rest of the story To Be Determined.

  • Rush Hour: Every hour in and around Los Angeles seems to be "rush hour." So only appropriate these Cowboys pass rushers seem to comply no matter what drill or situation they are put in during these padded camp practices. Telling you, this pass rush is for real. From the defensive ends. The inside guys who sometimes are defensive ends moved to tackle in definite passing situations. The safeties blitzing. The linebackers blitzing, and now the trendy move since the success of Micah Parsons is moving linebackers onto the line of scrimmage to rush. The latest being Leighton Vander Esch, sometimes rushing as the outside defensive end and other times moving up to create a fifth on-the-line rusher outside, say, DeMarcus Lawrence. And they have so many of these guys, to the point have seen defensive end Dorance Armstrong rushing from the defensive tackle spot. "Tank" too. And to think last season the Cowboys finished with 54 sacks, their most since 59 in 2008.
  • Not To Worry: Red flags went up during Tuesday's practice when first-round draft choice Mazi Smith was missing in action. Noticeable fans along the fence were asking, "Where's Mazi?" Well, "The Maz" was getting an MRI, complaining of a sore knee. Turns out to be much ado about little. Has a touch of tendinitis and was back on the practice field Tuesday evening for the walk-through workout and out here again Wednesday for the fancily named "Mock Game," same as a walk-through. And so was Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz after rolling his right ankle on Tuesday.
  • Here We Go: You will hear that endlessly in the Saturday preseason game from the Cowboys quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage, this being the team's new offensive slogan to set the snap count. Last year it was "Frisco, Frisco." Now, "Here we go," putting the snap count in motion.
  • More Balance: So for the sake of honesty, yes, Dak Prescott was picked off three times in practice Tuesday, twice by Trevon Diggs and once by Leighton Vander Esch on a red-zone toss a little low. But what wasn't pointed out were the two deep touchdown passes Dak threw to Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup, each guy beating Diggs for the catches. And on the first Diggs pick, CeeDee Lamb had given up on a deep ball overthrown and appearing likely to go out of bounds that didn't.
  • Deuce's Wild: Been watching sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn in practice for two weeks. Somewhat in awe with a few things he's done, especially in the running game, either hitting holes between the tackles or quickly bouncing outside to beat defenders to the boundary. His swiftness is sudden. He is defying gravity And even head coach Mike McCarthy says, at just 5-feet-5, Deuce is hard for defensive linemen to locate since they are used to looking straight ahead or up, but not used to looking down to find the ball.
  • Camp Bites: At one point in Tuesday's practice, with Zack Martin still not here, Biadasz having rolled his ankle and the Cowboys not wanting to overwork Tyron and Tyler Smith, Terence Steele was the only starting offensive lineman practicing with the first team offense, the other four considered backups … Went to the University of West Florida website to find what division Cowboys undrafted wide receiver David Durden played in college (Division II), only to have his highlight video front and center on the site. And I'll be darn, the first play up was the exact deep, diving touchdown catch in the end zone he had here Tuesday, though unfortunately hitting his head on the ground here and suffering a concussion that likely keeps him out of Saturday's preseason game … Running back Tony Pollard has returned to camp after missing the past couple of days to witness the birth of his child … Here is backup quarterback Cooper Rush's scouting report on the team's seventh-round draft choice, wide receiver Jalen Brooks: "Big (6-1, 203), fast, really can run, rangy," and so far, making his presence known … And during Tuesday's practice-ending young-guys period, quarterback Will Grier drove the offense 65 yards for a touchdown, with some key runs by Vaughn and undrafted rookie fullback Hunter Luepke, a screen to Vaughn and then the scoring pass from Grier to undrafted rookie wide receiver Jalen Cropper.

For this week's last word, let's go to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, describing what it's like to have so much pass-rushing depth on this defense, the one finishing last season with 54 sacks.

"We want to make sure we can attack with the same speed from the first play of the game to the last play of the game. And to have the ability to do that, better have depth, better have volume to do that. When those moments count in the fourth quarter or at the end of the half or the end of the game, we better be (going) 1,000 miles per hour. So plus, to have that depth to do that, that's a big part of what we do.

"So we like to roll with a strong group and deep one to make sure however we got to get it on at the end of the half or at the end of the game, we have fresh guys who are absolutely maxing it out."

And brother are they maxing it out here in camp with this perfect plan.

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