OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys weren’t too familiar with the two kickers they brought with them to training camp this summer.
Jonathan Garibay is an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech, whose claim to fame was nailing a 62-yard game-winning field goal against Iowa State last season. Meanwhile, Lirim Hajrullahu has the most experience with the Cowboys as he played a game for them last season, but he was merely a COVID replacement for Greg Zuerlein in Week 10's 43-3 drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium.
Hajrullahu went 5-for-5 on his extra points but did not have a shot at a field goal attempt.
As the Cowboys work through the kicker competition, coach Mike McCarthy is also making sure that the team doesn't wear out their kicking legs amid the battle.
"There’s constant communication," McCarthy told reporters after practice on Aug. 2. " [Special teams coordinator] John (Fassel) and [assistant special teams coach] (Rayna) Stewart have a great relationship with those guys. So, trust me: we’re counting all their kicks, too. But this is needed. We need this competition. We need to give these guys opportunities because right now we don’t know much about either one of them."
After Hajrullahu filled in for Zuerlein, he didn't play another down for the Cowboys, who later released him. The Kosovo-born and CFL veteran kicker caught on with the Carolina Panthers in the final three weeks of the regular season, and went 4-for-5 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points.
"It’s nice to see him get a full opportunity this time, and I want to make sure he definitely gets that," McCarthy said.
The Cowboys kickers were shaky on the first day in pads on Aug. 1, but McCarthy liked how Hajrullahu and Garibay have responded. The kicking competition will continue as McCarthy and the staff look to create as many "mojo moments" with the kickers as they can.
"We’re going to keep that period going there at the beginning of practice during the team fundamentals," said McCarthy. "You can see the last two days we’ve upped their snaps but also made it part of the mojo moment. So, because we’re trying to get them as close to live reps as possible.”
Whoever wins the kicking battle will have to leave the Cowboys coaches with the confidence that they picked the right guy who can make simple kicks along with clutch ones. In 2021, Zuerlein went 29-35 on field goals and 42-48 on extra points.
Zuerlein's 87.5 extra point percentage was the lowest of his career and the Cowboys’ 88.7 percentage overall was only good for 26th in the league last season.
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