Dallas Cowboys rolling with rookie kicker? Mike McCarthy urges patience

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FRISCO, Texas -- In 2007, Mike McCarthy was 44 years old and in his second year as Green Bay Packers head coach. He was still learning the trade and emotions would sometimes flare, especially with a rookie kicker.

McCarthy is now 58 and facing a pressure-packed 2022 as he enters his third season as the Dallas Cowboys coach and is likely to face a similarly uncertain kicking situation that could make his emotions flare again.

With the Packers in 2007, Mason Crosby was a sixth-round pick. As 2022 begins, McCarthy isn't quite sure who will be the Dallas kicker.

The Cowboys have just one on their 90-man roster -- Jonathan Garibay, undrafted out of Texas Tech.

In all likelihood, the Cowboys will add another kicker before flying to Oxnard, California, for training camp in July, but the assorted veterans available have résumés that don't guarantee more success than Garibay.

It's possible the Cowboys re-sign Chris Naggar, who was released before the rookie minicamp this spring. He has kicked in one NFL game. They will likely keep their eye on kicker battles across the NFL this the summer, and might even look to the USFL for help.

"Patience," a smiling McCarthy said when asked what it is like to have such a quandary at kicker.

How's his patience these days?

"Better today than I was in 2007, I'll say that," McCarthy said. "It was a good experience."

In 2007, Crosby made 31 of 39 field goal attempts as the Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game. He hit a 42-yarder in his first game to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and none of his misses came in a game Green Bay lost.

In the one session he kicked during an offseason practice that was open to the media, Garibay displayed a strong leg. He made multiple kicks from 50 yards, but also had a miss from 55 and a 53-yarder ticked off the right upright. McCarthy believes the experience of snapper Jake McQuaide and holder Bryan Anger will help.

"You can definitely get a feel for his ability," McCarthy said. "... He's off to a good start. He's just young."

Crosby had a better collegiate résumé than Garibay, although Garibay did make a 62-yarder to beat Iowa State and help Texas Tech become bowl eligible. It was the longest make in FBS last season. Garibay missed just one attempt all year (15 of 16) and was a first-team All-Big 12 pick. In 2020, he made 8-of-11 tries.

"Man, as a kicker, you always dream of moments like that, just having the opportunity," Garibay said. "I live by the saying that I'd rather be ready for an opportunity and not have it then have one and not be ready for it. I think when it came down to it, I was excited for that opportunity to kick that field goal."

The Cowboys' kicking situation last season was too shaky, even for a team that finished 12-5 and won the NFC East.

Greg Zuerlein missed six field goal attempts last season, when three of the Cowboys' five losses were decided by fewer than three points. He missed at least one kick in each of those games, although he made a 56-yarder to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.

The Cowboys remained in Zuerlein's corner, believing (hoping?) the veteran would find his form after not kicking in the offseason and through almost all of training camp because of back surgery. In March, they decided to move on from his $2.2 million salary, although they nearly re-signed him before he joined the New York Jets.

How the Cowboys are handling the position harkens back to the 1990s when they relied on former special teams coach Steve Hoffman to find a cost-effective kicker, and he mostly found them with the likes of Chris Boniol, Richie Cunningham and Lin Elliott.

In more recent years, their approach has been similar to 2011 when they had five kickers on the training camp roster -- Dan Bailey, David Buehler, Dave Rayner, Shayne Graham and Kai Forbath.

Bailey, undrafted out of Oklahoma State, won the job and at one point became the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He made 32 of 37 field-goal attempts as a rookie.

Under the Bailey model, Garibay would have an inside edge.

At least for now, months before the games start when McCarthy's patience is high.

"It means that they expect a lot from me," Garibay said. "At the end of the day, I expect a lot from myself. ... It's a lot of mental. It's mainly mental. There's a lot of great guys out there that have the strength, that are really good kickers, that have power and accuracy. Just sometimes it's a mental thing. It's 99 percent mental and the other 1 percent is probably mental, too.

"I think there is a high expectation and I'm just trying to do like I've always done -- focus on myself, not focus on the competition, and take it one kick at a time. That's the mentality you've got to have -- one for one all the time."