Training Camp Preview: Special Teams

Ask anybody in the media covering the Dallas Cowboys and they'll be quick to point out the fact that missed field goals played an enormous role in several losses last year.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mike Vanderjagt, K Shaun Suisham, P Mat McBriar, LS L.P. Ladouceur, KR Tyson Thompson, PR Skyler Green.

In 2005, three Dallas kickers combined to make only .714 percent of their field goals, the third-worst in the NFL.

So the Cowboys went out and signed veteran Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history. It represents a change of philosophy for the Cowboys who had always went with cheap and inexperienced kickers. In fact, the Cowboys committed $5.4 million over three years to Vanderjagt.

The only question is whether he can kick off. Vanderjagt, entering the second half of his career, doesn't have the leg strength he once did and Dallas might have to sign another kicker during training camp to handle kickoff duties.

"I feel like I could still kick off," he said after the team's mini-camp earlier this summer. "I felt I could in Indianapolis, and I told Bill (Parcells) I can, if he wants me to do it here. I don't necessarily want to kick off, but I don't not want to, either. From an ego standpoint, I'd like for the organization to be able to carry one kicker and one punter, and save the other spot for something else."

Punter Mat McBriar was somewhat inconsistent last season but has the leg strength to be one of the NFL's best.

He averaged 42.5 yards per punt for the year, but struggled down the stretch.

Despite those struggles, the Cowboys signed McBriar, an exclusive rights free agent, for the one-year minimum: $385,000 earlier this year.

Rookie draft pick Skyler Green should fill the team's desperate need for a punt and kickoff returner.

"I've always been a punt returner," Green said. "I took my first punt in college back for a touchdown, and I was in there ever since, and became the No. 1 returner on our team. So I know they want me to do that here, too."

Green was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year last season after averaging 13.3 yards on 27 punt returns, bringing one back for a score.

Second year running back Tyson Thompson, one of the fastest players in the league, will also work on kickoff returns.

After the Cowboys released veteran Jeff Robinson last year, the team ultimately turned to L.P. Ladouceur to handle long snapping duties after rookie Jon Condo struggled with consistency in the early part of the season.

Once again, Ladouceur should be the man for the job this year as well.

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