Returns aren't in for Cowboys' Buehler
IRVING, Texas -- One of the most important things to remember when attempting to save money during an NFL draft is to mix in a kickoff specialist in the fifth round. Owner Jerry Jones has admitted that the Cowboys' 2008 draft was all about cutting costs, which is a gentler way of saying, "We already blew our '08 draft on Roy Williams."
In order to keep us amused on Day 2 of the draft, Jones spent a fifth-round draft pick on a kickoff specialist out of USC named David Buehler. He then spent the next couple months talking about Buehler's prowess in the 40-yard dash and the number of times the kicker could bench-press 225 pounds.
Buehler became an easy target for making jokes about Jerry's discount-rack draft. But as the Cowboys prepare to travel to Minnesota for a divisional-round playoff game, Buehler's emerged as the best player from that draft class. With his four touchbacks against the Eagles in Week 17, Buehler broke the club record that Lin Elliot had held for 18 years. This will likely hurt Elliot's bid for the Ring of Honor, but it has galvanized Cowboys fans and their loved ones.
Buehler edged out the Falcons' Michael Koenen and the Broncos' Matt Prater for the league title with his 29 touchbacks. That he's not going to Miami as a member of the Pro Bowl team is an affront to some of the great touchback specialists of my era, including Neil Rackers and others that are harder to recall at this time.
On Monday, I fought through a horde of reporters to land an exclusive with Buehler and found him to be one of the more engaging kickoff specialists of our time. Did you know that Buehler apologizes to his teammates when he doesn't record a touchback?
And whether or not he boots the ball deep into the end zone, backup quarterback Jon Kitna is always the first player to greet him. With a lot of time on his hands this season, Kitna has appointed himself head of the specialist appreciation committee. When players forget to congratulate Mat McBriar for once again silencing DeSean "Stinger" Jackson, Kitna rushes out to do the honors.
Some of you may have noticed that Buehler began a wild celebration Saturday when reserve wide receiver Kevin Ogletree raced down the field on a kickoff in the first quarter and destroyed Eagles return man Victor "Macho" Harris. The Eagles' starting safety was forced to leave the game. I asked Buehler what led to his wild display that brought back memories of Martin Gramatica, a man who could celebrate the smallest of achievements.
"Ogletree's my roommate and he'd been telling me all week that he was going to have a huge hit on special teams," said Buehler. "I didn't expect that at all, because it's not like he's a real physical guy. I just got really excited for him."
In a rare moment of self-reflection, Buehler shared with ESPNDallas.com some of the secrets to being the top kickoff man in the NFL:
"First, you have to have good direction because you may want to try to force them into a corner," Buehler said. "It's also important to have good hangtime and, of course, good distance."
In addition to his kickoff duties, Buehler performs on the kickoff and punt return units. He said it makes him feel better about being a specialist.
"I'd feel bad if all I could do is kickoff," he said. "I need to earn my keep around here, and I want to show that I'm more than just a kicker."
Sir, we applaud your work.
Matt Mosley writes weekly on the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.
NFL PLAYOFFS: THE ROAD TO MIAMI