DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys were dealt a blow to their special teams on Tuesday when the club placed kicker Greg Zuerlein on the COVID-19 reserve.
The 33-year-old kicker will assuredly miss the Week 10 showdown with the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys are expected to work out free agent kickers this week with Lirim Hajrullahu on the short list of candidates. Hajrullahu kicked for Dallas in the third preseason game, going 2-of-2 on extra points. The Cowboys released him shortly thereafter, and he spent a week on the practice squad in the middle of September.
The Cowboys will have a week's worth of practice to get ready for the loss of Zuerlein, but it raises the question of what Dallas would do if they lost a specialist in the middle of a game. Special teams coach John Fassel went through the roster when asked in his weekly presser on Nov. 1.
"Will Grier would have been our emergency holder [against the Minnesota Vikings]," Fassel said. "Bryan Anger would have been our emergency kicker. And Greg Zuerlein would have been our emergency punter. And we have a couple of guys who can snap. Blake Jarwin can snap. Connor Williams can snap. CeeDee Lamb can snap incredibly well. That’s a fact. That’s not a joke.”
The Cowboys have other options as receiver Cedrick Wilson, who has displayed his gadgetry as a passer, could be a punter or a kicker.
"Really Cedrick Wilson would be a punter and [defensive end] Azur Kamara can actually kick field goals," said Fassel. "Another surprise kicker — I know you guys think I’m out here joking around — but Tyler Biadasz can kick field goals. So, there’s a lot of unique skills, and Azur comes from a soccer background back in his youth. So, some of these guys have skills.”
Unlike the presumptive free agent Dallas will bring in, the game day emergency specialists don't get any scheduled reps during the regular season due to the limitation on practice reps; it is all based on what was noted in offseason workouts or training camp.
Said Fassel: "Off schedule we’ll get some guys some work. That’s a huge factor that we think about every week. Like, okay, what if something happens to these guys? You don’t have a backup. It’s not like a backup receiver or a backup running back. So, you have to manufacture however you can based on whoever has done it in their past.”
When Fassel was the special teams coordinator with the Oakland Raiders in 2010, kicker Sebastian Janikowski had to fill in for punter Shane Lechler in a 39-23 win over the Denver Broncos on Dec. 19. Of all the emergencies, punting is the least of them.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to not need an emergency snapper, which is probably the most dangerous emergency," said Fassel. "An emergency punter can go in there and catch it and punt it. Really doesn’t matter what happens with the football as long as it goes that way pretty far. Then kicker you probably have to shorten the range down for the punter who is going to hit field goals. But the snapper is a tough one."
Dallas will still have snapper Jake McQuaide. The kicker will be different, and next Sunday will be the first time since Oct. 14, 2018, when Fassel and Zuerlein were both with the Rams that "Greg the Leg" will miss a game.
Do you think the Cowboys will be able to survive in the kicking game without Zuerlein? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.