*With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at each position group in a 10-part series, continuing today with special teams. *
Top of the chart: Dan Bailey
It's been a while since the Cowboys have had a reliable kicker for three straight years. Chris Boniol, who is ironically enough the kicking coach for Dan Bailey these days, was really the last guy to be this steady. But if Bailey has another year like his first two, he'll likely be considered one of the best kickers in the NFL, if he's not there already. Bailey hasn't just made his share of game-winners – seven in the last two years to be exact with two more clutch kicks to force overtime – but he's been money inside of 50 yards. Last year, Bailey made all 26 attempts of 49 yards or less. He was 3 of 5 from 50 and beyond. If there is one area of his game that needs more work, Bailey admits it has to be on kickoffs. But he did improve with that last year and said he's spending more hours this offseason working on his kickoffs.
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When he punts – in games – he's pretty good. He had a 45.2-yard average early last year before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. At one point, former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis called him the early-season MVP because he was placing the ball at perfect locations and doing so with the necessary hang time. Now, in practice, Jones doesn't always strike the ball with perfection and will have a shank or two that often raises a few eyebrows. But let's not forget that he's still a 23-year-old punter who is learning his way in the NFL. He probably won't have much competition in training camp but when the games start, the Cowboys need him to rise to the occasion like he's done before. Jones will likely get another yard and a half away from the line this year, moving back to a full 15 yards from the line of scrimmage in Rich Bisaccia's scheme.
Still need to know … Who takes over on kickoff returns
Three different players had at least 11 kickoff returns last year, including Lance Dunbar, who led the team with 12. Dwayne Harris and Felix Jones each had 11 and, of course, we know Jones has since signed with the Eagles. Dunbar could be the guy with the first crack at this. He is developing a role in the offense, but if he can solidify kickoff returns, it would only help his cause as a mainstay on the roster. Rookies B.W. Webb and Terrance Williams might get a shot in there as well.
Don't forget about … Dwayne Harris
Had it not been for Bailey's excellence the last two years, Harris likely could've gone in the "Top of the Chart" category. Harris' ability to return punts won't be forgotten. He came on strong at the end of 2012, ranking second in the NFL with his 16.1-yard average. His 78-yard punt return against the Eagles turned the tide in that game and he also had a field-position-altering return against the Steelers in an overtime win. Even if he doesn't win the No. 3 receiver spot from Williams, Harris has a defined role as a shifty, crafty return [embedded_ad]
specialist who seemed to elevate his play on offense with every stellar return he had on special teams.