Cowboys secure with Dan Bailey
With job nailed down, kicker focused on replicating pressure situations in camp
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett wants to create competition throughout his club.
He wants players competing for roster spots, playing time and starting positions with the hope that elevates the entire team.
Except at kicker.
The Cowboys know they have their guy in Dan Bailey. So Garrett is creating a different kind of competition at training camp for the second-year man.
Sure, Delbert Alvarado is taking some turns on field goals and kickoffs, but he is as much of a threat to Bailey's job as Nigeria was to the U.S. men's basketball team a few days ago in an 83-point loss.
"What we want to do with Dan, as much as anything, is create as many pressure-packed situations as we can create out here," Garrett said.
So far in training camp, Bailey has not missed in those pressure situations when called upon during the middle of practice. In fact, in his first make, linebacker Sean Lee kept hollering, "Call timeout, call timeout," in an attempt to throw him off.
It didn't work.
Bailey has missed only one field goal attempt in camp, and part of the blame on that miss can be attributed to a poor snap. His consistency is his best trait. He made 26 consecutive field goals in 2011 -- tying Chris Boniol for the second-longest streak in franchise history -- but it was his work in the clutch that was so impressive.
He beat San Francisco with a kick in overtime. He made six field goals against Washington, including a 40-yarder with 1:47 to play in an 18-16 win against the Redskins. He beat the Redskins in overtime at FedEx Field with a 37-yarder. Four days later he beat Miami on Thanksgiving with a 28-yarder as time expired.
"It's tough to replicate exactly the kind of pressure you feel in a game, just because it's different," Bailey said. "It's hard to simulate crowd and stuff like that, but it's something I enjoy."
Bailey never seems too excited. His heart rate never seems to rise in pressure situations. He is the same guy on the fields of Oxnard, Calif., with a few thousand fans watching as he is at Cowboys Stadium in front of a crowd of 90,000.
"I wouldn't say it's nervousness," he said. "It's more of an anxious feeling. It's nervous excitement. I'm not ever going in saying, 'Man, I don't think I'll make this kick.' It's more anxiousness. It's good butterflies, I guess. You've just got to make sure you're confident and tell yourself you're going to make it. The mind's a powerful tool, so I try to keep that in my mind."
Bailey's rookie year wasn't without some tribulations. He had a potential game winner erased at Arizona because of a Garrett timeout and missed the subsequent kick, leading to an overtime loss. A week later he had a potential game-tying kick against the New York Giants blocked by Jason Pierre-Paul.
"I don't know that the good sticks in your mind more than the bad or vice versa," Bailey said. "I can definitely learn from the Arizona game and the Giants game, but you've also got to treat yourself and realize it can go both ways. You just have to stay even on it."
That's how he won the job from David Buehler in training camp. Every kick was analyzed and scrutinized inside the Alamodome. The Cowboys were so unsure of Bailey as the season approached that they had five kickers on the roster. They brought in veterans Shayne Graham and Dave Rayner, but neither could win the job.
Bailey received a meager $2,500 signing bonus and wasn't even the team's first choice as an undrafted kicker. Had Kai Forbath not been injured, Bailey might not have received an offer from the Cowboys.
"Last year it was every day you were competing against whoever," Bailey said. "This year it's a little different. But that's what I'm trying to do, really keep that in the back of my mind and focus on making every kick."
In the offseason, Bailey worked on getting his kicks up faster and kicking from troublesome hash marks or distances without tinkering with his mechanics. He also added some strength and flexibility to handle the longer season after admittedly wearing down some late in his rookie season.
"I'm not lifting weights like some of these linebackers," Bailey said, "but it's more explosive types of lifts and I've gotten stronger."
The Cowboys will need Bailey in 2012, just like they needed him 2011. Having a reliable kicker like Bailey means one fewer thing the Cowboys will have to worry about.
"I think there's always going to be pressure," Bailey said. "That's the nature of the league. You've just got to perform day in and day out and you can't really take a day off."