But the argument could be made that that title would fall on kickoff specialist David Buehler, after the rookie from USC led the NFL — and set a new Dallas record — with 29 touchbacks. But despite his stellar debut, Buehler said he wants to contribute far more to his team, starting next season.
"There's always something to improve on, if you don't look at it that way (29 touchbacks leading NFL)," Buehler said. "You settle for mediocrity, and I don't like doing that at all. I like to be the best at what I do, and it's my job now, to lead the NFL in touchbacks. I did that, and that is going to be the goal next year, and (another) goal is going to be to improve on what I did this year. I want to progress each year and get better, and the 29 touchbacks is a good benchmark, to strive for me to get 30. Obviously, I want to get as many as I can, and the following year I want to beat that record."
But while Buehler quickly established himself as one of the league's premier kickoff specialists, he said he remains focused on fulfilling his goal of being a complete kicker — one who booms thundering kickoffs into the back of the end zone, but also one who gets called upon by his coaches to convert key field goals in the waning minutes of tight games.
"Obviously, to have longevity in this league, I'm going to have to kick field goals, and that's what I want to do," he said. "I look forward to that opportunity, and that's going to be my main focus in the offseason — fine-tuning my field goals, and being able to be a reliable field goal kicker and having the coaching staff have confidence in me, that I can put three points on the board."
That wasn't an option last summer.
The Cowboys raised eyebrows across the league with the selection of Buehler, when they already had a young kicker, Nick Folk, with a Pro Bowl appearance on his résumé. There was no misunderstanding — Buehler was being brought in to kick off.
"I knew why the Cowboys brought me in, initially — they brought me in to do kickoffs and play special teams, if I could. So that was the main focus, and that was what I was working on. But now I'm in a different boat, going into my second year, and I'm going to fine-tune my field goals and be practicing a lot to come in here and win that job."
That he has a chance to win the job is because of the lesson he received in the harsh reality of life in the NFL. Buehler and Folk not only were partners in the Dallas kicking game, but good friends off the field, as well. But when Folk struggled, he was cut by the Cowboys, and replaced by Washington Redskins castoff Shaun Suisham. Whether the team chooses to invite Suisham — a free agent — back next year is up in the air, but his uncertain status does mean the kicking job is open, and Buehler said he wants a crack at it. He said that when Folk was cut, he practiced field goals, but his layoff from regular field goal practice showed.
"That's when I got my reps," he said of the days following Folk's departure from the team. "I wasn't kicking much earlier than that, because I don't think anyone was expecting that to happen to Nick. I should have been kicking. I should have been ready, just in case, because you never know when your opportunity will come. But I wasn't ready, and once I started kicking (field goals) I was knocking off that rust, and it was starting to get into December, with playoff implications.
"I talk to him every once in a while. He's doing alright, and he's getting some workouts. Nick's a great kicker — he was a Pro Bowler his rookie year, and he'll definitely be in this league a long time. It just goes to show you that, no matter what you did in the past, you're only as good as your last kick. Every kick is important, and you've got to take it that way, and take every opportunity to capitalize."
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