Hold On

IRVING, Tex. - One of the least-visible positions on a football team has gotten an unusual amount of attention in Dallas recently: holder.

Punter Mat McBriar used to do the honors for assorted Dallas kickers, and some — including recently-canned former Pro Bowler Nick Folk — sang his praises loudly and often. Some even went so far as to suggest that part of the reason McBriar's latest contract with the Cowboys was as long as it is (five years) was due, at least in part, because of his extra value as a holder.

But when Folk started scattering his field goal attempts around stadiums as if they were fired from a shotgun instead of a precision rifle with a high-powered scope, the Cowboys sought remedies for the problem. Folk tweaked his warm-up routine and his approach to the ball when kicking. He tried to analyze what he was doing, and he tried to forget everything he was doing. If there's a theory out there about how to regain a kicking stroke, chances are he considered it.

As a last resort, the team changed holders, sending McBriar to the sideline and summoning quarterback Tony Romo — he of the most historic holding gaffe in team history and the honest confessions that he doesn't want the job. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis cited as reasons for the change the fact that Romo has great hands, is a great athlete and is the team's most talented holder.

Fair enough. But does that make it the right move?

In the grand scheme of things, the biggest factor is the kicker's comfort level. Shaun Suisham surely is so glad to have a job that he doesn't care if his holder is Tony Romo or Jerry Jones, as long as he has a job. The comfort thing can be worked out in practice.

Aside from the comfort level, two other factors need to be considered, although only slightly.

A bad hold (even if caused by a bad snap) theoretically could cause a kicker to inadvertently crack his holder in the hand. Because Romo's hands are so valuable, McBriar would get the edge there.

The other thing to be considered would be the idea of fake plays, or plays on which the execution somehow gets botched, forcing the holder either to tuck the ball and take off, or throw it. To say Romo has the edge in those categories would be an enormous understatement.

However, neither factor should be too large a part of the decision. If a team is building its decisions around the potential for a botched snap, or relying on the need for trick plays, chances are the holder is going to be the least of the team's problems, anyway.

The bottom line is who makes Suisham most comfortable. If he's unsure about the snap and the hold, he might fall into the same scattershooting that led to Folk's departure from Dallas (and Suisham's exit from Washington). Romo and McBriar both have their value for the Cowboys, but ultimately, the holder should be whoever makes Suisham the most comfortable and confident that he'll convert each kick.

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