in the span of a few weeks, the Dallas Cowboys have gone from doubling down on just how ready kicker Greg Zuerlein would be for Week 1 against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to buying renter's insurance in the event there's something not quite right with him. Zuerlein, who spent the large majority of training camp on the team's physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a back injury, was activated ahead of the preseason finale and went on to play in the regular season opener, but things didn't go smoothly for him in the latter.
After seeing Zuerlein miss a 31-yarder and PAT in Tampa, the Cowboys have re-signed kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to the 17-man practice squad, sources tell CBS Sports, in a move that hints at some anxiety regarding Zuerlein -- despite team exec Stephen Jones reiterating his "confidence" in Zuerlein to right the ship going forward. For his part, Zuerlein stood in front of the train following the game.
"No excuses," he told media. "If I'm out there, I should make the kicks. No excuses."
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That was a sentiment echoed greatly by special teams coordinator John "Bones" Fassel, who convinced the Cowboys to sign Zuerlein to a multi-year deal in 2020 and part ways with a then-perfect kicker in Kai Forbath. Fassel didn't pull any punches when asked about his kicker's misses on Thursday night, and with the defending Super Bowl champions on the ropes, no less. He expected more, didn't get it, and isn't attempting to spin it into anything more than what it was:
Zuerlein missed easy kicks, i.e., a 31-yarder and a PAT.
"Looking back, I talked to Greg, and a couple of those misses we don't attribute to lack of preparation," said Fassel on Monday. "We thought we followed his post-surgery protocol right on the money. I know a lot of people didn't see him kick during training camp, but we did a lot post-practice, just kind of slowly ramping him up. We got some operational kicks the last couple of weeks.
"I don't see that as a factor. The 60-yard [attempt before halftime] was kind of a Hail Mary field goal, but the two for sure makeable ones he just missed. ... Operation was good. There was no wind.
"You can dissect it down to the bone. The first 31-yarder he just miss-hit it and pulled it left. The PAT he hit pretty good, he just pulled it a little bit left. Nothing to attribute it to other than just a miss."
It's expected that Zuerlein will remain the kicker going into Los Angeles when the Cowboys take on the Chargers, but the presence of Hajrullahu on the practice squad gives Dallas another option if things don't look quite right in practice this week. And, in a pinch, they could even carry two kickers on the game-day roster by calling up Hajrullahu on Sunday before moving him back down to the practice squad on Monday.
That would be an extreme measure when considering how valuable game-day spots are, however, but the Cowboys at least want it in their back pocket.
And in a bit of new news, owner Jerry Jones intimated Zuerlein was also battling a quadriceps injury of some sort late in camp -- something that wasn't known prior to now. It's unknown what the severity of that issue was, or if it further complicated his preparation for the regular season, but Zuerlein was seen making plenty of kicks in the final days of August and, as Fassel pointed out, the team doesn't believe the issues in Week 1 stem from lack or prep work or practice time.
As for Hajrullahu, who initially signed on with Dallas in late August in a kicker shuffle that saw them waive Hunter Niswander injured, it'll be about staying at the ready in this week and for however long the team keeps him in tow. The Cowboys aren't giving up on Zuerlein, but they've also given notice they are prepared to bring in reinforcements if they have to -- grabbing Hajrullahu only two weeks after releasing him in final roster cutdowns, which was only one week after signing him initially.
Are they still "confident" in Zuerlein? Likely so, but they've now rolled out a safety net.
Excited for the new Cowboys season? We are too! Follow along on the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from Patrik Walker, who's on the ground in Dallas. Plus, get the latest Dak Prescott news, Ezekiel Elliott predictions, and much more from our team of experts. If you already have the app, you need to set the Cowboys as your favorite team for up-to-the-second news and analysis.