/ Click here to view the Ultimate 53-man depth chart.
The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player from each season.
Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.
The series continues today with 1984 and Bill Bates, a reserve safety and special teams maven for The Ultimate 53.
Name: Bill Bates
Cowboys Tenure: 1983-97
Why Him? A full-time starter for only three years of his franchise record-tying 15-season run with the Cowboys, Bates' value to the club in the 1980s and '90s can't be totally explained with statistics. In addition to a nickel role for much of his career, he was the league's premier player in the kicking game. Undrafted in 1983, he quickly established himself as the NFL's best kick-coverage player, forcing the league to create a Pro Bowl spot for special teams aces in his second year.
The Role: A reserve safety, not even necessarily the first guy off the bench at the position, the value of a player like Bates can't be understated. The kicking game accounts for almost a third of the plays in each game, and each club dreams of having a true special teams ace who can run down and pin opponents deep in their own territory or knock the ball loose with a jarring tackle. Special teams coaches are forced to game plan for their presence on every kickoff or punt, making that singular player far more important to the operation than most observers realize.
Back To The Future: Most often, the ideal special teams player is a safety by trade, that position offering just the right combination of size and speed to fly down the field and make plays. Today, Danny McCray does a fine job of filling Bates' shoes. In his first two seasons, in fact, McCray became the first player to lead the Cowboys in special teams tackles consecutively since Bates accomplished the feat in 1989-90. McCray's 28 special teams stops as a rookie in 2010 were the most by a Cowboy since Jim Schwantz had a team-record 32 in 1996.