Cowboys are betting on Buehler
Kicker has a big leg, but he'll have to prove he can be accurate, too
Perhaps I should get my eyes checked. It sure looked as if at least one of his four attempts sailed wide of the uprights during team drills that morning.
Maybe Phillips' claim is just further evidence of how much the Cowboys hope their cannon-legged kickoff specialist can fix the team's field goal woes. The Cowboys missed the most field goals in the NFL last season, and they hope the solution is a guy who failed to beat out Nick Folk after the ex-Pro Bowler developed a drastic case of the yips last season.
"It just makes a lot of sense," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who wants to use only one roster spot on a kicker. "He does have the college experience, and we felt like he could develop into a top field goal kicker."
The Cowboys are committed to maximizing Buehler's odds of succeeding. Ex-Cowboys kicker Chris Boniol was hired as a consultant to work with him.
Boniol's focus with Buehler, who led the NFL with 29 touchbacks last season, has been twofold. They've tweaked Buehler's fundamentals and worked on his mental approach.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Buehler is far from the typical kicker. He's a phenomenal athlete who beat a defensive back in a post-practice 40-yard dash during last season's training camp. He played fullback and safety in junior college and covered punts and blocked on kickoff returns as an NFL rookie.
Gung-ho, however, doesn't get it done on field goals. Boniol has convinced Buehler of the importance of calming down.
"We know he has the leg strength," Phillips said. "We worry about him overkicking it, trying to overpower it, but he looks like he's got his stroke down."
Buehler is more focused on fundamentals than force these days. He's made two subtle changes while working with Boniol. He eliminated a jab step with his left foot, and no longer watches the ball after it's snapped, looking instead at the holder's hand.
"You're trying to fine-tune everything and minimize the moving parts so there's less room for error," said Buehler, who made 25 of 32 field goal attempts at USC but only five of 10 from 40-plus yards. "Now it's second nature. I don't even have to think of it."
All Buehler thinks about is putting the ball through the uprights. He'll have plenty of opportunity to prove he can do that on a consistent basis.
However, if Buehler doesn't inspire confidence during the preseason, the Cowboys will likely scan the waiver wire or call an out-of-work veteran such as Dallas Lake Highlands High School product Matt Stover.
Jones won't entertain any discussion of contingency plans now, though. He said the organization is committed to making it work with Buehler.
That's certainly a risk for a Super Bowl contender, but Jones knows all too well that there are no sure things when it comes to kickers. After all, it was only four years ago that he gave the kicker with the best field goal percentage in NFL history a $2.5 million signing bonus and Mike Vanderjagt lasted a grand total of 10 games before Bill Parcells cut him.
"We had a kicker come in here that I paid more than I've ever paid five kickers," Jones said. "If it would have been this situation, we'd have already gone to Plan B."
Jones guffawed as he recalled the Vanderjagt gaffe, but field goals will be far from a joking matter at Valley Ranch if Buehler can't get the job done.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com You can follow him on Twitter.