Special in more ways than one

IRVING, Tex. - The Cowboys' draft elicited a number of reactions, most of which condemned the team's haul of new players to a rank of "average" … or according to some, even worse.

Of the 12 players the Cowboys drafted, perhaps none sparked more curiosity than the selection of former USC kicker David Buehler. The team already has kicker Nick Folk, who is not yet 25 years old, has a cannon of a leg and already has a Pro Bowl appearance in his first two NFL seasons.

When asked about the selection of Buehler, it was learned that the Cowboys intend for him to take over kickoff duties from Folk. Buehler recorded touchbacks on 48 of his 88 kickoffs as a senior at USC, and led the Pac-10 with an average of 48.2 yards per kickoff.

As it turns out, however, the Cowboys saw a lot more in Buehler than just a strong right leg capable of bombing kickoffs through the back of the end zone.

"Coming into the draft, I was called by the Chiefs, Bengals and Dallas, and they (all) said they were very interested in me," Buehler said. "The Chiefs and Bengals wanted me to go in there and do kickoffs and be the field goal kicker, because they have some older kickers, and actually Kansas City didn't really have an established kicker.

"So coming in here, it's a different circumstance, and they're probably going to have me play a little special teams, so I'll have to get back into that football mindset, and also be able to kick. They're talking about punt team, maybe as a personal protector (on punts) and doing some coverage. I would love to be a gunner — I was a gunner in junior college. Most kickers, I don't think they want to hit anybody. It's definitely a different mindset, going from playing into kicking, but I still have a little football mentality left in me, so it'll be ready to come out and show on the field. I'm a little surprised they're putting me on (other) special teams, just because I haven't been a ‘player' for two years. Me and Coach D (special teams coach Joe DeCamillas) already talked about it a little bit, about me playing some special teams, so I'm just trying to help the Cowboys out any way I can."

The Cowboys had good reason to believe he could handle a wider array of duties than merely kicking off. The über-athletic Buehler, who was hit in the head by a steel pole (leaving a large knot on his skull) and suffered a cut that required a few stitches on his right — kicking — knee in last weekend's collapse of the Cowboys' practice facility in a wild storm, actually signed with USC out of Santa Ana Junior College as a kicker and safety. At the NFL Combine, he outran all three of the the Trojans' heralded linebackers — Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 40-yard dash, and even did more reps in the 225-pound bench press, 25, than Maualuga, who did 23.

"I was on ESPN's First Take, Jim Rome was talking about me, I was on SportsCenter — I got a lot more media publicity than I would have ever expected," he said. "I was just trying to go in there and show them athleticism, and it just so happened I was a kicker, so it just blew up and everyone had a field day with that.

"I can help a team out anywhere they need," he said. "Obviously, I came in mostly as a kickoff specialist, but they're talking about me playing special teams and stuff, too. I haven't done that in two years. I've been just a kicker for two years, so I definitely have to change my mindset and bring a new aspect to the game. But I did that in junior college — I kicked off, played safety, played goal-line tailback and played special teams. So I have to kind of resort back to that, just come out and play football."

Buehler said he understands that kicking only kickoffs might be what is needed to make the Cowboys' roster, but acknowledged that down the road, he hopes to handle all kicking duties.

"Definitely," Buehler said when asked if he's OK with the idea of being the Cowboys' kickoff specialist and not kicking field goals. "I definitely want to break in to being a field goal kicker eventually in my career — I think that's my niche. (Being a) kickoff specialist will get me into the league, with my leg strength, but eventually I want a long career, and you get a long career and the next contracts through doing field goals. That's where you get longevity and a longer career, as a field goal kicker and a kickoff guy — the longer careers don't come banging heads on special teams and whatnot. I'm definitely looking forward to helping the Cowboys out on some special teams, and contributing any way that I can. Anything to help the team right now, though, I'm definitely ready to do."

That Dallas was the team that chose him in the draft came as a surprise to many, including to Buehler himself.

"There's a few other teams in the league that carry a kickoff specialist and a field goal specialist, (but) was a little bit shocked to get drafted by the Cowboys," he said, "because they do have Nick Folk who's young and everything, but I can offer something to help the team with field position, getting touchbacks and learn under Nick and go from there."

Buehler has trained with Folk before, and while the Cowboys' incumbent kicker represents something of a roadblock to Buehler's plan to be a full-service NFL kicker, he also affords the Dallas rookie a chance to lean from someone who already has performed at a Pro Bowl level.

"Three years ago, I believe, when I was trying to get into SC, or any D-I college for that matter — he was an instructor at a kicking camp that I went to, where I was one of the competitors, trying to get my name out there and come up and get a D-I scholarship," Buehler said. "He was already at Arizona. So I got the scholarship to SC, and later on down the line, when I was the SC kicker, we both worked at the same event, and I've kicked with him six or seven other times before that. He's a great guy, and I come in here looking up to him. He's been in the league two years, and he knows what to do and what the experiences are like and what the pressures are like, so I respect everybody that's been through that. I come in with open ears, and ready to learn from him. He texted me, congratulating me, so it's all good — we're friends, and I come in here to learn."

So now Buehler finds himself as a member of the Cowboys, and admitted that just being inside the team's training complex in the suburb of Valley Ranch, sitting in the locker room and putting on the helmet with the blue star for the first team marked the fulfillment of a lifelong goal.

"It's surreal," he said. "It's been a dream of mine, just to get into the NFL, and I'm actually here, in the Cowboys' locker room — Tony Romo's locker is right over there. All these stars I looked up to … I'm in their room — I'm in the room where they get ready to play football. I'm part of the team now, so it's crazy, a dream come true, and I'm just ready to get out there and show them what I can do."

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