Special In Every Way

And then there's Buehler, who already has 17 touchbacks in seven games. That's 17 more than the Cowboys had a year ago.

Now touchbacks isn't really something DeCamillis can control. He didn't create Buehler's golden right leg. But on those kicks that don't go through the back of the end zone and are actually put in play, the Cowboys are getting down there and covering kicks.

You know . . . the Cowboys kick it, the other team catches and returns it, and then . . . . they're tackled. And no, not 20-30 yards down the field, usually it's right then and there. Wow, refreshing, huh?

The Cowboys rank second in the NFL in opponent's average starting position, the 21.6-yard line. Some of that is Buehler's touchbacks, some of it is Buehler's high and deep kickoffs that naïve and overly-confident return specialists are bringing out of the end zone anyway, and some of it is DeCamillis' teaching his players how to stay in their lanes and play under control despite running some 50 yards like a madman.

The Cowboys rank 11th covering punts, a ranking that has improved rapidly here in the last few weeks. You can see the confidence in the gunners - Alan Ball and Pat Watkins - who a few times this year have just met at opposing punt returners to combine on the tackle.

You can't talk about special teams improvements without mentioning Patrick Crayton, who became just the second player in franchise history to return two punts for touchdowns in consecutive games. Are you serious? Crayton taking it to the house . . . twice?

Crayton will be the first to admit the blocking up front has been outstanding. But he'll also admit that DeCamillis deserves a ton of credit for this turnaround.

"He's brought a different attitude about (special teams)," Crayton said. "The guys realize that we have the potential to break one at any moment now. If we get a returnable punt, or we can take it back to the house now. It's just the attitude.

"Special teams practice now, before practice . . . it's really just 30 minutes of hell. These guys are actually sweating more, I promise you, before the actual team period gets started. He really gets after us."

And you know the players must respect that coming from DeCamillis and what he's gone through.

Here's a guy, 44 years of age, who we all know by now is battling through a broken neck and back that required extensive surgery, nearly six months ago to the day. Sure, that was a half a year ago, but the physical pain hasn't gone away, resulting in daily rehab work with strength and conditioning coach Joe Juraszek, who shares many of same techniques in his coaching style.

"We hit it off pretty much from the beginning," Juraszek said of DeCamillis. "Our personalities are very similar. We're very vocal, active and try to create an aura of excitement. That's what he brought to the team right away.

"What I like about Joe is that he coaches on the same level as them. He doesn't coach from a pedestal talking down to them. He's trying to help them become better players on special teams so our team plays better overall. And that's how I relate to him. I'm doing the same thing with our players, trying to get them prepared on the field when an opportunity presents itself."

DeCamillis and Juraszek might have similar coaching styles, but only because they're similar in personality.

"You have to be yourself," DeCamillis said. "You can't be someone you're not. The players will see right through it. They're smart. They know what's going on. And if they see that, they won't respect you."

Needless to say, DeCamillis is getting respect from his players. As a result, his players on special teams are getting some respect, too.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising