Cowboys' kicking concerns linger

ARLINGTON, Texas -- On Thursday night, David Buehler made a 42-yard field goal in the Dallas Cowboys' preseason opener, easing some fears about the kicking game.

The Cowboys conducted a practice Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium and Buehler went 3-for-4, missing from 34 yards.

Dan Bailey, the rookie kicker, who didn't have an attempt Thursday, went 1-for-4 at practice and missed consecutive kicks from 34, 38 and 43 yards.

"Both of them had a poor day [Sunday] but hopefully we can get back to work," special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. "And I think they didn't come with the same focus today as we need to every day."

If the Cowboys don't have a reliable kicker in 2011, it puts extra stress on head coach Jason Garrett, who also serves as the team's offensive coordinator. It makes the decisions harder in terms of whether Garrett should go for it on fourth down or attempt field goals in the range of 45 yard and above.

The Cowboys have enough problems to worry about and don't need their kicker to be one of them.

This all started in 2009 when Nick Folk went from dependable to a kicker who lost his confidence. He blamed offseason surgery on his hip and the new holder, Mat McBriar, for his troubles. There was a notable miss against the New York Giants in 2009 in which Folk yelled at McBriar as though the punter stole his paycheck.

Things were so bad, former holder and current starting quarterback Tony Romo,volunteered to do it the next week. It was as though Romo, who hates being a holder, was trying to keep the peace.

Folk was released before the end of the season, and the team asked Buehler to take over in 2010.

Buehler hadn't kicked since his days at USC and was drafted exclusively as a kickoff specialists and special teamer. He was now needed to kick off and make clutch kicks.

Last season, he was a perfect 8-for-8 from 20-29 yards but was shaky from beyond. He missed three of seven kicks from 30-39 yards and three of 11 kicks from 40-49 yards. Some of Buehler's misses were from makeable areas of 34, 44 and 35 yards.

Maybe the early weeks of the season were a sign of things to come. In the season opener, Buehler's first field-goal attempt went wide right at Washington.

The next week, against the Chicago Bears, Buehler had a chance to tie the score in the fourth quarter but was wide left from 44 yards.

As the season progressed, Buehler did make some clutch kicks. He beat Indianapolis in overtime and made a big one in the fourth quarter in the rematch against Washington.

Yet a missed point-after-attempt at Arizona on Christmas night eventually cost the Cowboys a game.

Buehler said he's evolved from the kicker who made 75 percent of his field goal tries last season. But here's a statistic that should worry the Cowboys: Of the kickers who attempted at least 30 attempts last season, Buehler ranked third from the bottom in percentage. Only Miami's Dan Carpenter (73.2 percent) and Washington's Graham Gano (68.6) had worse percentages.

This might be part of the reason the organization signed Bailey, a rookie from Oklahoma State who won the Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in college football last season.

After Sunday's performances, DeCamillis is still searching for answers.

"I thought he was 2-4, but 3-4 is still not good enough," DeCamillis said of the kickers on Sunday. "[Buehler] needs to go 4-4. [Bailey] just didn't have a very good day; he's put some good days together."

The good news is Buehler and Bailey are still young enough to be saved, but this kicker competition will last into the preseason.

It's something Garrett has no choice but to deal with.

"We want them to be their best and we want them to make their kicks," Garrett said. "We want them to make it a hard decision for us and each of them have done a nice job, but each of them has also been inconsistent at times. We'll continue to evaluate that day-by-day."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.