Cowboys position series: Specialists

The last in a series looking at each Cowboys position group:

Players: P Mat McBriar (signed through 2011), K David Buehler (signed through 2012), LS L.P. Ladouceur (signed through 2012), K Shaun Suisham (restricted free agent),

What went right: The Cowboys dominated the field position battle on a consistent basis due to the kicking game.

Buehler proved that a fifth-round pick on a kickoff specialist can be a wise investment. He consistently boomed kickoffs into the end zone, with a league-high 29 touchbacks. The opponents’ average field position after kickoffs was inside the 23-yard line, which ranked second in the league and was an improvement of more than 6 yards from 2008.

McBriar was the only punter in the league to pin opponents inside the 20 more than half the time, doing so on 38 of his 72 punts with only three touchbacks. He ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in punting average (45.1) and net average (39.9).

What went wrong: Field goals were a season-long adventure.

The Cowboys were basically forced to cut Nick Folk after a span in which he missed seven of 11 attempts. His final kick as a Cowboy was a 24-yard attempt that clanked off the upright in New Orleans, leaving the door open for a Saints comeback.

Suisham, who missed two field goals in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, was better but didn’t solve the problem.

McBriar took some of the blame as the holder, resulting in Tony Romo taking over those duties, but it became clear that the kicker was the problem.

What’s next: The Cowboys told Buehler, who has a strong but erratic leg, to focus on field goals this offseason. He’ll compete with Connor Hughes, one of the kickers the Cowboys brought in for a workout after cutting Folk, for the field goals job.

The Cowboys would prefer not to use another draft pick on a kicker after selecting one in two of the last three years. They’ve hired ex-Cowboy Chris Boniol as a kicking consultant to work with Buehler and Hughes.