Fri, 27 May 2022

Mick Shots: No Stone Unturned In Kicker Search

Dallas Cowboys
12 May 2022, 20:24 GMT+10

Mickey Spagnola

FRISCO, Texas - Let the action begin, well, sorta, out here at The Star this Friday.

Cowboys rookie minicamp this weekend, mostly just drills and walk-throughs.

Nearly 40 guys will be on the practice field: those nine draft choices, 20 rookie free agents, seven roster guys from last year's team without having qualified for a year of service and a handful of guys on a tryout basis.

Most intriguing for me would be the only position the Cowboys have no clue yet who will win the job:

Kicker.

There will be three of them here, all combined for one game of NFL experience. All combined for one made regular-season NFL field goal. Let the competition begin ... for now.

First, there is Chris Naggar, owner of that one field converted in his one NFL game last year with Cleveland, previously signed.

Then there is rookie free agent Jonathan Garibay of Texas Tech. Garibay, after two years in junior college, kicked in just three games for Tech in 2020 and then a full season in 2021.

And behind Door No. 3 comes relative unknown Simon Mathiesen, his road here as one of the tryout guys most intriguing but more circuitous than old Route 66 winding through this country from Chicago all the way to Santa Monica, Calif., a total of 2,448 miles.

Mathiesen, 28, grew up in Vedbaek, Denmark. Attended high school overseas at Copenhagen Business School. Then landed at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo., the former soccer player not as a kicker but a wide receiver at 6-4, 205 pounds during his freshman year as a walk-on in 2013.

After dabbling in some kicking during practices, the Bearcats were desperate for a kicker heading into a game against Washburn. During an interview for the Maryville Forum, Mathiesen is quoted as saying, "10 minutes before the game against Washburn, I was told I had to kick."

The rest is history, at least at Northwest, where after going 10 for 10 that freshman year, he finally gave up this receiver idea and kicked for the next three seasons, connecting on 61 of 74 field goals and 237 of 243 extra points for a team winning three NCAA Division II national championships in his four years.

But here is where this second-team All-America honors' career took one of those jarring 90-degree turns. With drawing only NFL curiosity in 2017 and a degree in business economics, Mathiesen landed in the Danish-owned company Trackman, at the time primarily involved with golf and baseball, using video technology to track swing speeds, angles and ball speeds. Mathiesen became involved in the football arm, primarily tracking kick stats, such as ball speed, hang time, apex height and projected distance of field-goal attempts.

Trackman evolved into a relationship with NBC, the network using its technology during Sunday Night Football broadcasts since 2018, assisting commentary on kicker distances, misses, ball flight and height, leg strength and leg swing consistency the past four seasons. And for the first time, Trackman was used at SoFi Stadium for this past Super Bowl, also able to judge the distance a kick would have been good from and ball tracers for full flight of the ball - similar to what takes place now during PGA golf broadcasts as soon as the ball is struck.

Mathiesen was the guy going to stadiums before games to set up the equipment and then kicking to make sure all worked properly. And during this time the former college kicker met and became friends with former Danish kicker Morten Andersen, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, receiving some "private lessons" along the way. When folks at various NFL stadiums saw him kicking while setting up the video technology, they realized this guy had some talent. I'm told NFL teams are now showing interest in bringing Trackman technology into their franchises, including Baltimore. Even Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker is one of the NFL kickers incorporating Trackman technology into his routine.

A few years back, in a Washington Times interview, Andersen had this to say about Mathiesen: "I've gotten to know him pretty well. He has a lot of talent. I can identify quickly whether he has what it takes - physical talent, work ethic and mental toughness. I put him through some tough workouts and he performed well. He's got good elevation on the ball, good projector. He is pretty dialed in right now."

Well, it's 2022 now, Mathiesen hasn't kicked competitively since that Northwest Missouri State 2016 national championship season. But the Cowboys are giving him a shot.

And hey, in the Cowboys current kicker state, why leave any stone unturned?

It Ain't Easy: Not so fast buying into the strength of schedule math suggesting the Cowboys are tied with Washington for the easiest this 2022 season, their 17 opponents finishing the 2021 season with a combined 133-155-1 record, factoring out to a .462 winning percentage. Much of that has to do with playing five games against four of the five teams with the worst records last year, Giants twice (4-13), Detroit (3-13-1), Jacksonville (3-14) and Houston (4-13), only missing out on the 4-13 Jets. But check this out: The Cowboys will play the two Super Bowl teams, five of the seven division champs and eight games against teams finishing with winning records. That means two with the best records from last year, Green Bay (13-4) and Tamp Bay (13-4), two teams with their identical 12-5 record, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee, and then Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati (10-7) - all division champs. Then with winning records Indianapolis (9-8) and two games versus NFC East foe Philadelphia (9-8). Meaning half the schedule ain't so easy.Since 2016: If history then means anything, four of the six teams finishing with the league's easiest schedules since 2016 have wound up in the playoffs the next year: 2016 Packers (10-6), 2018 Texans (11-5), 2020 Ravens (11-5) and 2021 Eagles (9-8). Conversely, five of the past seven teams finishing with the highest strength of schedule since 2016 (Falcons and 49ers tied in 2016) ended up missing the playoffs the next year. Yet once again, the meek shall inherit in the NFL.Bucket List: If heading to Green Bay for a Cowboys regular-season game has been on your wish list, better go this year, the NFL already announcing the Cowboys will play the Packers at Lambeau on Sunday, Nov. 13, with the complete schedule coming out Thursday evening. This is a readily attainable bucket item. If not driving, there are flying options into Milwaukee, Chicago or even Madison, Wis., getting you within driving distance of Green Bay. And if you can't find a place to stay in Green Bay, check out Appleton. Plan ahead to find tickets. But better go, since the next possible time the Cowboys might play a regular season game in Green Bay would be 2026, but only if the two teams finish in division-corresponding places when the NFC East plays that team from the NFC North.TB12: Ten years, $370 million is all I've got to say about that. And for those wondering how Tom Brady will do in a TV analyst role for Fox and if he'll spend the time to prepare, give me a break. He'll over prepare. And the reason why these quarterbacks do so well in the booth, starting with the late Don Meredith, is their uncanny ability to see the field - the whole field in one snapshot.Third Round: To me, NFL free agency has three rounds. First, immediately when the gates open. Second, after the early money is overspent, like by the second or third week. And the third round? Now, after the draft, that second week in May when guys still available look up, and think, Hey, I'm unemployed, I better find me a deal. Especially the older veterans. At the start of the week, 22 of NFL.com's top 101 free agents were unsigned. Know what? Fifteen of those guys were 30-something. Never a good idea to invest in age too often. And just this week free agent veterans started signing deals, including defensive end Jerry Hughes (Houston), running back Sony Michel (Miami), running back Mike Davis (Baltimore) and offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (Colts). Guarantee you Michel looked up with no job, saw offseason workouts beginning and said, OK, I'll play one year for $2.1 million with the Dolphins.Mini-Shots: As recent as last year the Chicago Bears backup quarterbacks were Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. Well, Dalton recently signed a free agent deal with the Saints and Foles has been released, the Bears incurring a combined $12.6 millions of dead money against the cap for those two former quarterbacks, yet another cautionary tale about spending big bucks to sign veteran free agents ... Wonder if McCarthy, upon leaving the Packers, uttered the infamous Gen. Douglas MacArthur words said after pulling out of the Philippines during World War II, "I shall return." Certainly the impetus for the NFL announcing this highlighted game Wednesday ahead of the schedule's official Thursday release ... Most intrigued to watch fifth-round draft choice Matt Waletzko. Want to see if he has the feet and mobility to potentially earn the swing tackle position as a rookie behind Tyron Smith and Terrence Steele ... Another note on that Cowboys' strength of schedule ranking. With only the Cowboys winning more than nine games last season and playing the AFC South and NFC North, the NFC East's Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and Commanders are the bottom four teams in strength of schedule while three NFC West members, the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers, because they play each other twice, along with Seattle, rank first, second and fifth, respectively.

And for this week's last word we go back to Day 2 of the NFL Draft when the Cowboys selected South Alabama wide receiver Jalen Tolbert in the third round with the 88th overall pick. No doubt the Cowboys and probably quarterback Dak Prescott were impressed with his performance against Tennessee of the SEC, as even though the Jaguars got wiped out, 60-14, at Neyland Stadium, Tolbert finished with seven catches for 143 yards and a 68-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.

Tolbert was quite surprised receiving a call from Prescott prior to the draft, saying this during his draft day interview with members of the Cowboys media.

"He called me a couple of days ago, and I actually thought it was a call like, 'Hey, is this your draft pick number?' I answered, and he was like, 'Jalen!' and I was like 'What's up?' and he was like, 'It's Dak Prescott, man. How're you doing?'

"For a minute it was like a surreal moment because I never knew quarterbacks would call prospects, but it was awesome. It was awesome, great experience. We had a 20-minute conversation, and it was a great one. I think we immediately vibed on the phone and connected right there."

Now they need to connect as well on the field.

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