You never know when a story will appear out of the blue.
It was done a week ago while I was out, and rather coincidentally, as we’re kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel in this rather dead period in the NFL before the Cowboys report to training camp on July 24th.
This text appears on my cell phone:
“Hey Mickey. You guys just signed my kicker, Brandon Aubrey. Great kid. I was the special teams coordinator this year in Birmingham. Chris Boniol.”
No way. There you can just see? You guys remember Chris Boniol, right? He was the Cowboys’ highly skilled kicker from 1994-96, winning a Super Bowl ring during that 1995 season and making 88.2 percent of his field goals with a career-high 93.8 percent during his 1995 Pro Bowl season. He also served first as the Cowboys’ kicking consultant in 2010 and then as the team’s special teams/kicking assistant from 2011-13. And he was the guy in that 2011 season, during the Cowboys’ desperate and extensive search for a kicker, that advocated for this undrafted, raw rookie from Oklahoma State named Dan Bailey. Put your neck on the line, trust his kicking expertise. Boy, was he right.
Well, after working as an assistant special teams coach and kicking coach for Tampa Bay from 2019 through this past season, which included having another Super Bowl ring when the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV, he served as the Birmingham Stallions’ special teams coach in the USFL under Skip Holtz, the Louisiana Tech head coach from 2013-21, Boniol’s alma mater.
Voila, Brandon Aubrey, a collegiate soccer player at Notre Dame and the defender who played professionally for Toronto FC of MLS for one year and then Bethlehem Steel of the United Soccer League for one year. He then decided to try his hand at professional football, actually being drafted by Birmingham in the USFL for the 2022 season and then kicking in 2023 under the tutelage of Boniol during the Stallions’ second consecutive USFL championship season.
Now with the Cowboys, the former MLS first-round pick is a rookie free agent currently competing with Tristan Vizcaino for the team’s kicking job.
“Great kid,” Boniol said of the kicker the Cowboys brought in after the USFL season. “He’s definitely got the talent. He’s definitely got the ability. Good leg strength. Has a chance to be competitive.”
That’s exactly what the Cowboys are looking for from the 28-year-old from Plano, Texas, not far from The Star. His USFL numbers for a guy who has been a football player are impressive. Aubrey made 18 of 22 field goals his first season with the Stallions and 22 of 24 extra points. Last year he was 14 of 15 on field goals and hit every one of his 35 extra point attempts.
Here are the other two points you look for in a kicker:
“He’s got a good kickoff leg,” Boniol said, pointing out that he could return a kickoff from the 20-yard line, where they kick off in the USFL, five yards into the end zone if they wanted him to, even though they directional and hanging. time in the USFL is extremely important.
Then there’s this: “Phenomenal behavior,” meaning Aubrey will blend in with the team, who has an even temper. And it certainly didn’t hurt that Aubrey was able to connect with Boniol, possessing a wealth of experience coaching kickers with the Raiders, Mississippi State and these four seasons with the Bucs. Not to mention getting started in the coaching business through kicking camps and private instruction.
Lo and behold, the Cowboys had some inside information on Aubrey thanks to Boniol, saying that Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel reached out to him during the season and that he “even showed up one day to a game.” Plus, as Boniol says after coaching in the USFL this year and having fun, “We have a commitment to not only win games, but to develop players and help them find an opportunity.”
Well, here’s an option, but a tough one considering last year’s kicker, Brett Maher, made 29 of 32 field goals in the regular season. Hey, that’s 90.2 percent. And 50 of 53 extra points before developing the yips in the playoff win over Tampa Bay, missing four extra points. Which I was reminded of the other night while watching a rerun of the _Jimmy Kimmel Show_ that aired right after the game, with a video of every one of Maher’s misses.
As previously pointed out, the Cowboys were spoiled mightily by Maher making 90 percent of his field goals, including going nine of 11 from 50-plus yards.
“Well, here’s a guy who made 92 percent of his kicks,” Boniol said, doing a good job of preparing Aubrey for this possibility. “Teaching him that you’re going into a situation where you can compete, not just in camp, but against the entire league.”
Who knows, the Cowboys might have to take a _shot_ to bring a tag team here, kicker and coach.
· Feeling A Draft: Only this one by NFL.com concerns the draft of current NFL players, giving you an idea of what another person thinks of the Cowboys’ roster talent using the 2023 draft order and a “team win-now” special need criteria for selection. Quarterback Dak Prescott was the ninth pick in the first round and went to Carolina. The first eight picks were all quarterbacks, in order Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Aaron Rodgers, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson, another illustration of quarterback importance. Cowboys “lionback” Micah Parsons went 15th to the Packers, just the fourth non-quarterback selected. At 27, the Cowboys got wide receiver Stephon Diggs. Guard Zack Martin was the third pick in the second round to San Francisco and CeeDee Lamb 49th overall to Washington. So only three Cowboys among the top-50 selections. Only five other Cowboys players were selected: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, 94th to San Francisco; cornerback Trevon Diggs, 121st, to Atlanta; wide receiver Brandin Cooks, 152nd, to Minnesota; defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, 182nd, to Tennessee; and Tyron Smith, 219th, to the Cowboys. Hmmm, no Pro Bowlers like Tyler Biadasz, Tony Pollard, or KaVontae Turpin, and tell you what, me, I wouldn’t have overlooked guys like Tyler Smith, Terence Steele, Leighton Vander Esch, and Donovan Wilson on my team somewhere in the top 224 players in the league.
· Running back in place: Teams must wait for the start of training camp or suffer an injury because Ezekiel Elliott isn’t the only veteran running back still out there in free agency. There is a formidable Foursome available, including Zeke, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt. Perhaps, though, those veterans might want to skip training camp and preseason games before signing on the dotted line. Call it up to experience.
And this week’s final word goes to Prescott from his football camp held at The Star in Frisco, Texas, where he outlines his next few weeks before reporting to Oxnard, Calif., for the start of Cowboys training camp.
When asked if he’s practiced with his receivers since the end of minicamp in June, Dak said, “Coming up this week, coming up this week. I mean, I’ve actually been lucky. Me and a couple of the guys just ran into each other, been to Nike Camp last week – me, CeeDee, (Jalen) Tolbert, Cooks got together. Also happened to be in Portland, but then my turn this week is coming up.”
Means taking the guys out for a week of work and fellowship to an unknown location before the start of training camp.
“Being away from the guys for two weeks, having this week to come together and being away another two weeks before we meet, just making sure we understand the importance, the urgency now, of hitting camp.” Dak said. . “We had the installation, we had the OTAs that we did, and now it’s a case of making sure we get everything in and mentally sharp. We’ve got to make sure we hit Day 1 of training camp in full stride. And I think that’s what this week is, to meet, throw, have the camaraderie, just break bread as brothers, and make sure that we come together and commit now, and understand that we get need each other at the end of the year.