Cowboys Depth In Focus: Specialists

One of the questions I get asked most often after spring practice is who will return punts and/or kicks in the fall or who did return punts and/or kicks in the spring. The answer is nobody in the spring, and I can give you a best guess for the fall.

The reason is that under Mike Gundy as head coach the Cowboys have really never worked returns in the spring. I know that may be hard to believe because over the years they have been so good on kickoff returns, especially with a legacy of Dez Bryant, Kendall Hunter, Justin Gilbert, Tyreek Hill, and more. With that type of success the fans want to know who has next.

Robbie Discher earned Special Teams Coordinator of the Year from the folks at and a big reason had to be the Tyreek Hill punt return in Bedlam to set up overtime and the Oklahoma State win. It was a well executed punt return with plenty of big blocks for the speedy Hill to take advantage of.

Along those lines, Discher asked Gundy if he could spend practice time in the spring devoted to special teams to drills that worked on open field blocking for returns and for coverage unit personnel work getting off those open field blocks. It sure looked like it sharpened skills.

However, the main reason to save the work on the overall units is that even with the depth and numbers the Cowboys have for special teams this coming season there will be some incoming players like junior college defensive back Antwan Hadley and freshmen like McKinney North speedster safety Bryce Balous who will see duty on special teams. Gundy told me he would like to see if Balous, with his speed, could be a return guy.

I think it is safe to list wide receiver Brandon Sheperd, wide receiver James Washington, new running back Todd Mays, safety Jerel Morrow, cornerback Ramon Richards as kickoff return candidates, and for punts slot receiver David Glidden. That is as thorough as returns can be covered this time of year.

As for the rest of the specialist, I think a real key question will be who punts? All-State punter from Texas in Zach Sinor looks to have the edge. He is not the boomer that fans saw several years ago in Quinn Sharp but he does get good hang time.

Discher and Gundy have come to learn that Sinor is like a golfer with an approach shot and can put the ball within a few feet of where they want it provided it is around 40 yards of distance. He may be even more accurate than Kip Smith. Norman walk-on Matt Hockett can kick some boomers but is working toward more consistency. Hockett is valuable in that he can kick field goals and kickoffs too.

Kicker Ben Grogan sat out the spring rehabbing following the hip surgery he needed, and it appears he is on mark to be ready for the summer and training up to fall camp. Grogan should be stronger than ever and he proved last season to be fairly accurate. The hip healthy will make him better all the way around.

I'm always partial to those deep snappers and the Cowboys look like they will use two again. Kaleb Smith is an enthusiastic guy that will handle the field goal and PAT snaps and then Josh Elias is back to snap on punts.

Elias made several tackles last season and recovered the fumble on the punt in the Cactus Bowl that set up an early Cowboys score. He doesn't look it but he is athletic enough to make opposing teams look for him and as he has said, "if they use a guy to block me then I'm helping my team because somebody better is going to go unblocked."

Here is my depth chart for the specialist going into fall camp, minus returners.

Place Kicker
19 Ben Grogan, 6-1, 186, Jr., Arlington (Martin), Texas
59 Matt Hockett, 6-3, 195, RS-Fr., Norman, Okla.
49 Kevin King, 5-10, 175, Jr., NEO A&M J.C./Jenks, Okla.

29 Zach Sinor, 5-11, 195, RS-Fr., Castroville (Medina Valley), Texas
59 Matt Hockett, 6-3, 195, RS-Fr., Norman, Okla.

Deep Snapper
54 Josh Elias, 6-0, 200, Sr., Univ.of Arizona/San Jose (Valley Christian), Calif. (punts)
61 Kaleb Smith, 6-3, 255, So., Aledo (All Saints Episcopal), Texas (FG/PAT)

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