IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys might have a holder controversy. They do not have a lot of legitimate candidates, though.
Who would have imagined that the Cowboys would miss Brad Johnson this much?
Punter Mat McBriar readily admits that he's struggled in his first season as a holder, contributing to kicker Nick Folk's slump. The problem is that the Cowboys don't have much competition for McBriar's second job.
Kickoff specialist David Buehler and receivers Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd worked at holder during training camp. They haven't spent significant practice time holding for Folk during the season. That could change this week.
"We tried a lot of guys to see who was the best and Mat was the best of all the people that we had," coach Wade Phillips said. "If it comes down to that we need to look at that more, we will."
Johnson, the fortysomething backup quarterback who was released this offseason, flawlessly served as the holder the last two seasons. Johnson remained on the active gameday roster even when he was demoted to third-string quarterback because Phillips didn't have confidence in anybody else to hold for Folk. Jon Kitna, Johnson's replacement on the roster, has no experience as a holder and told the coaches he isn't comfortable in that role.
Tony Romo is the only current Cowboy other than McBriar who has NFL experience as a holder. He performed the task well, give or take a bobble on what would have been a go-ahead field goal in a playoff game, but the Cowboys don't want their franchise quarterback playing special teams.
Shaky holds have been only one factor in the worst season of Folk's career. Folk is 16-of-24 this season after making 46 of 53 field goal attempts in his first two seasons.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said the Cowboys needed to look at "the whole operation" and acknowledged a change at holder was a possibility.
"We've got limited options obviously, but we’ve worked with several guys," DeCamillis said. "We’ll just have to see as the week goes on."
DeCamillis said if the Cowboys change holders, he plans to keep that information a secret until the first time Folk attempts a kick Sunday.
"We are not going to tell you who the change will be going in," DeCamillis said. "Maybe it’s Patrick Crayton, we might want Patrick Crayton to run a fake the first play. That’s a competitive situation."
DeCamillis stressed that he isn't losing faith in Folk. But the Cowboys are losing points because of their problems on field goals, which has put Folk under a negative spotlight for the first time in his career.
"I’m sure it is playing on his mind," DeCamillis said. "He’s had a lot of success here the first two years, and he’s gone through some tough times right now like all of us are in that operation. I want to get it as corrected as soon as possible."