David Buehler's fate hangs up in the air

OXNARD, Calif. -- Nearly everyone around here says David Buehler is close to becoming the Dallas Cowboys' kicker.

But he's not there yet.

The owner, head coach, special-teams coordinator and starting quarterback have offered their support for Buehler. But to give him the nomination, he needs to win two more primaries.

For Buehler to win the job outright he has to kick well -- if given the opportunity -- in the last two preseason games. And after that, he will be watched with a careful eye in the 2010 regular season.

Buehler has gone 6-for-7 on field goal tries in the preseason, though he didn't attempt a kick Saturday night in San Diego.

In training camp -- whether it's here on the grass fields under sunny skies with a nice breeze or in the Alamodome's artificial turf in San Antonio -- Buehler has been good.

He had a 3-for-7 day the Thursday before the San Diego Chargers game that he blamed on just having a bad day. He hoped to redeem himself in the game but did not get the opportunity.

Instead, he spent the week converting 11 consecutive kicks, some into the wind, which was a good sign for the Cowboys as they go to places such as Landover, Md.; East Rutherford, N.J.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Philadelphia, where weather conditions can be harsh.

Buehler's future is as uncertain as Doug Free's at left tackle, Alan Ball's at free safety and wide receiver Dez Bryant's health during the season.

"We've got two more games, but I think the team has confidence in him and that's a big key," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We've still got two more games and he has a lot of work to do, as all of us do."

The Cowboys know Buehler has a strong enough leg to make kicks from 50 yards or more. His technique and mental makeup are issues.

Kicking coach Chris Boniol was hired to help Buehler get his timing down, make sure he follows through the right way, turn his hips a certain way and hits the ball correctly.

Buehler is hopeful that Boniol will stick around into the regular season, but that appears doubtful. Boniol will still be around for a phone call if necessary.

There are other uncertainties. How will Buehler deal with missing a kick with the game on the line? How will he handle missing two kicks in the same game?

"I think the mental is bigger than the physical part," he said." Physical work gets done during practice, as does the mental. But when you go to the games, it's all mental: 100 percent mental. That's the way I feel."

Having a young kicker is no issue for the Cowboys. Nick Folk was a rookie in 2007 and reached the Pro Bowl after making 26 of 31 field goal tries, including going 9-for-12 between 40 and 50 yards. Folk made kicks from 53 and 51 yards that year.

Folk continued to do well the following season, making 20 of 22 kicks overall and improving from long range. He went 12-for-14 between 40 and 50-plus yards. But it all went sour in 2009. Folk underwent hip surgery and never fully got into a groove.

He struggled all season, missing an NFL-high 10 kicks, and went 5-for-12 from between 40-49 yards. He was 1-for-2 from 50-plus yards. Folk blamed holder Mat McBriar. He blamed himself. He blamed not kicking soon enough after having the surgery.

It was just too late, and the Cowboys lost confidence in Folk in December. They had to cut him. Now he's with the Jets, a team that's expected to make a Super Bowl run.

The Cowboys could have saved Folk, perhaps by putting him on injured reserve last year and building up his confidence again.

That experience with Folk has the Cowboys on edge in their decision-making process with Buehler. If he struggles early in the season, the Cowboys will make a move. Quickly.

They won't cut him because Buehler is too valuable on kickoffs and he's a good tackler on special teams.

Dallas has much to lose this season. Like the Jets, the Cowboys have Super Bowl aspirations. They don't want the kicker to spoil that goal, so when the Cowboys play in Houston on Saturday night a lot of eyes will be on three kickers.

The Houston Texans have a kicker battle between Neil Rackers and Kris Brown. You have to think that the loser in this battle might get a job somewhere else.

If Buehler can't do the job in Dallas, you know the team will be moving on. It's a job the team wants to give him, yet he needs more opportunities before getting the keys to the office.

"I've got to go out and make kicks," he said. "And if I'm not doing that, they will bring somebody in. There are tons of guys out there that are creditable kickers and good kickers that have made kicks in big games."

The man in charge of making sure this is done right is Joe DeCamillis, the special-teams coordinator. He has the ears of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Phillips.

In the next two weeks, DeCamillis will be asked about the kicking situation by the head coach and front office. He must have confidence in Buehler and relay that to the organization. Something we believe he will do.

"It's not only the mental part, but it's how will he recover after he misses one, and also how he recovers after he makes one," he said. "Some guys, as you know, they have success, and they tend to let it get to their head. So we want to make sure he stays even-keeled and handles that situation."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.