The Cowboys’ decision-makers maintain that they have confidence in kicker Greg Zuerlein. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hedge their bets, too.
The team is reportedly re-signing Lirim Hajrullahu to the practice squad after Zuerlein went 3-for-5 in Week 1 field goals, including a missed PAT in the 31-29 loss to Tampa Bay.
Hajrullahu had filled in for the Cowboys during the preseason as Zuerlein rehabbed from back surgery. The former CFL All-Star booted two extra points in the team’s third preseason game versus Houston and got no field goal chances. He was cut after less than a week with the club, once Zuerlein was finally ready to resume his duties.
The #Cowboys are expected to re-sign kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to their practice squad, source said. A contingency plan after Greg Zuerlein’s struggles in the opener.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 13, 2021
On Monday, special teams coordinator John Fassel told reporters that missing all but the final two weeks of camp was not a factor in Zuerlein’s misses Thursday night, even though his first missed field goal- on his first attempt of the season- was from a distance that’s shorter than an extra-point try.
And Zuerlein didn’t just barely miss the mark. The 31-yard kick wasn’t even close.
He went on to hit the upright minutes later on a point-after-touchdown try.
Cowboys ST coordinator John Fassel on Greg Zuerlein: “Looking back, talking to Greg, a couple of misses we don’t attribute to lack of preparation time. …I don’t see that as a factor. …The two makable ones, he just missed.” Zuerlein missed most of camp after back surgery.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 13, 2021
“Obviously, you’d like to see him make those kicks,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “You get in a game like that, you need all the points you can get.”
Zuerlein also missed a 60-yard-attempt as the first half came to a close.
The veteran himself refused to attribute the misses to rust but took blame for the loss, saying, “If I do my job, we win that game.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn’t quite as harsh the next day in discussing the two-point margin of defeat.
“The loss isn’t to be blamed on the kicker. But still, if we had had some execution on [some] of those kicks, it might have made a big difference here,” he told 105.3 The Fan.
But he admitted that Zuerlein’s absence from the team’s summer work is worth noting and may leave the team at less than full strength in that department.
“I felt like we really paid the price of not having our kicker in training camp,” he explained. “I look back and when you don’t have a kicker that’s real active in training camp, you may be kidding yourself in early ball games, ‘Is he really ready to go?’”
Jerry Jones tells @1053thefan that Greg Zuerlein will still be their guy moving forward.
Him as the #Cowboys Kicker before last night:
Kicks inside 40-yards: 19-19
Kicks inside 50-yards: 31-32
No one is 100% automatic, but he’s been about as close as anyone…until Thursday
— Kyle Youmans (@Kyle_Youmans) September 10, 2021
Jones, Fassel, and McCarthy have all outwardly expressed confidence that Zuerlein is their man.
But Monday’s move to bring Hajrullahu back into the fold may suggest that the kicker they call “Greg the Leg” is on somewhat shaky footing.