FRISCO, Texas – You can say it was because of injuries. You can say it was a lack of reps in practice. But Greg Zuerlein has his own way to describe the 2019 season.
"Last year was terrible," he said Sunday in a conference call. "No excuses there."
Now, coach John Fassel has a different answer, one that isn't as harsh and a little more forgiving. The Cowboys' special teams coordinator was with Zuerlein last season as members of the Los Angeles Rams. In fact, Fassel has coached Zuerlein throughout his NFL career, going back to 2012 when the Rams drafted him. Fassel has the answer as to why Zuerlein's performance, which had been so reliable for seven years, dipped in 2019?
"Yeah, I diagnosed a groin pull," Fassel said with a laugh.
That's been common knowledge since Zuerlein signed with the Cowboys back in April. Still, it carries some extra weight coming from his position coach – who saw Zuerlein fight through the injury first hand.
"In all honesty, he was going into the last year of his contract, and he wanted to kick through a pretty good groin pull," Fassel said. "So, for about a six to eight week stretch that we didn't even kick him during the course of the game week."
On Sunday, Zuerlein didn't go into detail of the injury, but said his job is to always make kicks, regardless of the situation.
"I think any time you had a bad year … you go back and see what am I doing right and what I'm doing wrong," he said. "For one reason or the other, it didn't go the way I want. Now I'm here, I have new teammates and new opportunities. Just being healthy and feeling good. I think I'm ready to go right now. We still have a few weeks to go. I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited."
Zuerlein's performance dipped noticeably last season from the years prior. From 2016-18, he connected on field goals at an impressive rate of 95%, 87% and 87% -- only to see that percentage dip to 73% in 2019.
It's a concerning drop in performance, though it makes much more sense in light of such a serious injury.
"Not to make excuses, and Greg would be the last one to do it, but that has a lot to do," Fassel said. "It has a factor on your ability to swing like you normally would."
But again, Zuerlein has no regrets in his decision to keep kicking through the injuries and the pain of last season.
"I don't regret any decision I have made. If I'm out there, regardless how I feel, I should make kicks," he said. "There's no excuse not to make kicks. To make any excuse is not acceptable."
The Cowboys obviously feel confident enough in his abilities this year, having released his only competition in Kai Forbath, just a few days into camp. While Zuerlein said he's always had someone else in camp with him, he prefers to get all the reps considering there are no preseason games and he needs to be sharp for the first game.
Especially, this first game, as the Cowboys return to Los Angeles where he will kick against his former team as they open the new stadium.
"I think it's going to be a pretty sweet experience," he said. "It'll be exciting. It's cool to play your old team in a new stadium. There will be a little bit of emotions just seeing the guys. At the end of the day, I'm so happy where I am."