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Cowboys coach John Fassel aiming to be better special teams play-caller

The Dallas Cowboys took strides in special teams in 2020 but second-year coach John Fassel is hoping to see even more improvement in 2021 with better play-calling.

DALLAS — Today you learned special teams play-calling is a thing.

According to Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel, that is one area that he has tried to improve throughout the 2021 offseason. 

The second-year Dallas special teams coach spoke with reporters on June 4 and stated that he thought the Cowboys were poor with "some of the situational stuff" and also the mechanics of the transition phase in 2020.

While the mechanics and technique of the Cowboys' special teams unit was Jekyll and Hyde throughout last season, some of it was due to play-calling. There were strange instances of going for it, such as punter Chris Jones throwing an incomplete pass on fourth down in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons. 

However, there were also moments where the play-call and the execution came together beautifully, as was the case in Week 9 when receiver Cedrick Wilson lateraled his punt return to cornerback C.J. Goodwin, whose 73-yard return was the rudiment behind Dallas' first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-yard line.

Fassel went back and watched every game to get a feel for the timing of his play-calls.

"A project I did this offseason that I hadn't done before is I went back and I watched the TV broadcast copy of every game starting in Week 1, and I muted it because I didn't want to hear the audio," Fassel said. "I wanted to get a feel for offense, defense, special teams. I watched it from snap one with 15:00 on the clock in the first quarter to the last snap of the game. That's a part of my job that I'm continuing to get better at is a special teams play-caller based on momentum of the game.

"So, I went back and I looked back at the TV broadcast just to get a really good feel for the flow of the game, and down and distance, the score. You can really feel the momentum, and I really want to evaluate myself how I did calling plays and being prepared for situations based on the flow and the momentum of the game. So, that was a great project for me, personally speaking, that I got a lot out of."

Two areas where Fassel believed the unit improved throughout the season was in their kickoff return blocking, which allowed running back Tony Pollard to tally 23.9 yards per return average.

Greg Zuerlein returns at the Cowboys' kicker, but the special teams will have a new face at long snapper as Jake McQuaide takes over for L.P. Ladouceur, who had been with Dallas since 2005. Bryan Anger was acquired in free agency and is the leader in a brewing punter battle with incumbent Hunter Niswander. 

The Cowboys are also looking for a gunner on punt coverage opposite of Goodwin, who will take decreased snaps in preseason to accommodate the position battle, according to Fassel. The battle thus far has been between Wilson and second-year defensive back Reggie Robinson.

"That's a great competition, because there's only two spots," said Fassel. "It's fair to say C.J.'s got one of them locked down. So, it's a critical position on our punt team."

Do you think the Cowboys special teams will take another step forward in 2021 under the tutelage of Fassel? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.