If you break down the last five seasons of league leaders when it comes to special teams tackles, the Cowboys had only one player that finished in the top five and that was Sam Hurd in 2010 with 19 tackles. The other seasons, the club has not had a player finish better than 28th.
New special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia brings an aggressive, attacking style that should translate well for a player like Danny McCray. What will be different for McCray this season as opposed to last is that his responsibility as a safety will not be as demanding. His special teams play may have suffered because he was called upon to fill that role as a starter. McCray made this team because of his role on special teams and to his credit he was even named it’s captain.
With the safeties that this club has added to the roster in the off season plus Matt Johnson also coming back from injury, McCray can focus solely on being one of the top special teams players in the league. It was just too much to ask for him to handle both the safety responsibilities and be the main contributor of the special teams.
In 2011, McCray finished 26th in the league with 13 special teams tackles. Last season, Eric Frampton managed 12 to lead the team. McCray should flourish in this new scheme and will finish with 20 or more special teams tackles which will place him in the top five for the league and put him back in his natural role on this team.
Nothing against McCray getting an opportunity to play in the defensive scheme this season but there are some players in this league that provide more than just being ok at what they do. Danny McCray is an ok safety but he is much more valuable as a special teams ace and difference maker for a team that needs him just to focus on that task alone.
With training camp right around the corner, let’s take a look at special teams.
Top of the chart: Dan Bailey
It’s been a while since the Cowboys have had a reliable kicker for three straight years. Chris Boniol, who is ironically enough the kicking coach for Dan Bailey these days, was really the last guy to be this steady. But if Bailey has another year like his first two, he’ll likely be considered one of the best kickers in the NFL, if he’s not there already. Bailey hasn’t just made his share of game-winners – seven in the last two years to be exact with two more clutch kicks to force overtime – but he’s been money inside of 50 yards. Last year, Bailey made all 26 attempts of 49 yards or less. He was 3 of 5 from 50 and beyond. If there is one area of his game that needs more work, Bailey admits it has to be on kickoffs. But he did improve with that last year and said he’s spending more hours this offseason working on his kickoffs.
Need to see more: Chris Jones
When he punts – in games – he’s pretty good. He had a 45.2-yard average early last year before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. At one point, former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis called him the early-season MVP because he was placing the ball at perfect locations and doing so with the necessary hang time. Now, in practice, Jones doesn’t always strike the ball with perfection and will have a shank or two that often raises a few eyebrows. But let’s not forget that he’s still a 23-year-old punter who is learning his way in the NFL. He probably won’t have much competition in training camp but when the games start, the Cowboys need him to rise to the occasion like he’s done before. Jones will likely get another yard and a half away from the line this year, moving back to a full 15 yards from the line of scrimmage in Rich Bisaccia’s scheme.
Still need to know … who takes over on kickoff returns
Three different players had at least 11 kickoff returns last year, including Lance Dunbar, who led the team with 12. Dwayne Harris and Felix Jones each had 11 and, of course, we know Jones has since signed with the Eagles. Dunbar could be the guy with the first crack at this. He is developing a role in the offense, but if he can solidify kickoff returns, it would only help his cause as a mainstay on the roster. Rookies B.W. Webb and Terrance Williams might get a shot in there as well.
Don’t forget about … Dwayne Harris
Had it not been for Bailey’s excellence the last two years, Harris likely could’ve gone in the “Top of the Chart” category. Harris’ ability to return punts won’t be forgotten. He came on strong at the end of 2012, ranking second in the NFL with his 16.1-yard average. His 78-yard punt return against the Eagles turned the tide in that game and he also had a field-position-altering return against the Steelers in an overtime win. Even if he doesn’t win the No. 3 receiver spot from Williams, Harris has a defined role as a shifty, crafty return specialist who seemed to elevate his play on offense with every stellar return he had on special teams.
Nine year veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will be the lone long-snapper on the Dallas Cowboys camp roster
Dwayne Harris tallied 354 yards and 1 touchdown on 22 attempts with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012