Cowboys' Vanderjagt likely to kick in game Thursday

The other high-profile offseason addition for the
Dallas Cowboys, kicker Mike Vanderjagt, has made progress in rehabilitating a groin injury that sidelined him for much of training camp, has practiced regularly this week, and figures to play in Thursday night's preseason finale.

"I think I'll be good," said Vanderjagt, who has not played since the preseason opener.

Overshadowed by all the attention afforded wide receiver
Terrell Owens during camp, as he recovered from a hamstring injury, has been the absence of Vanderjagt, who is expected to add stability to a Dallas kicking game that struggled in 2005. But the eight-year veteran, signed as an unrestricted free agent in March, has also suffered through extended time away from the practice field.

Vanderjagt has appeared in just one preseason game and attempted one field goal, a 21-yard conversion Aug. 12. More troublesome, though, has been the fact Vanderjagt had not logged much practice time until this week.

The staff held Vanderjagt out of the past two preseason games as a precaution, and with an eye toward having him ready for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener. Vanderjagt warmed up before the Aug. 21 game, then apprised Parcells that his groin was still sore and that it might be more prudent if he didn't kick.

His absence has kept the Dallas coaches from being able to determine if Vanderjagt will be able to also handle the kickoff chores, a responsibility he did not have during much of his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. Coach Bill Parcells would prefer to not have to carry a second kicker, essentially a kickoff specialist, on the regular-season roster.

If the Cowboys have to include a kickoff man on the roster, the top candidate is second-year veteran Shaun Suisham, who has converted four of five field goal tries in the preseason and has kicked off well.

"I'm hoping [Vanderjagt] could do [one] field goal [attempt], for sure, [although] maybe not all of them," Parcells said, in addressing the Thursday night preseason finale. "And I would really like for him to see if he could kick off, maybe at least once. But I don't want to do that at the risk of putting him back where he was. That's going to be his call."

Vanderjagt handled some kickoffs in practice on Tuesday, at about 80-85 percent strength, and Parcells joked that "he got a couple to midfield."

After years of getting by with young kickers who played for the minimum salary, the Cowboys this spring signed Vanderjagt to a three-year, $6 million deal that included a $2.5 million signing bonus. The Colts, for whom Vanderjagt had kicked his entire eight-year NFL career, made no attempt to retain him and instead signed former New England star Adam Vinatieri.

Dallas used three different kickers in 2005.

The most accurate field goal kicker in league history, Vanderjagt has converted 217 of 248 attempts, an 87.5 percent success rate. Only once has he slipped below 75 percent and in five of eight seasons, he has registered a conversion rate of 85 percent or more. Vanderjagt, 36, has made all but two of his 366 extra point tries and his 995 career points, with 100-plus points in each of his eight seasons.

Vanderjagt told Dallas-area reporters this week that, on Sunday, he attempted 71 field goals in practice and made 66 of them.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.