It’s the atmosphere more than the style of punting that will be different for Dallas Cowboys undrafted rookie free agent Cody Mandell.
After spending four years at Alabama and playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., everything in the NFL is new to the former college walk-on, including the locker room culture.
“You learn really quick that you’re a grown man here,” Mandell said. “You make your decisions, and every decision can either hurt or help you. I’ve had to learn that pretty fast.”
Mandell has had help adjusting from backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, a veteran free agent acquisition from Cleveland. Weeden’s locker was next to Mandell’s locker at Valley Ranch.
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“I know how it is when you’re a rookie,” Weeden said. “Your head’s spinning. Guys are going everywhere. It’s a lot more organized at this level, but you’ve got to be on time.”
And you have to be consistent.
Mandell’s punts in practice are getting longer and more consistent. Part of the reason for his success so far has been his work ethic and competitive drive.
“He’s a good worker, working towards being a great worker. And he’s talented, so I’m glad he’s here,” Cowboys special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said.
The Cowboys report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., on July 22. The first full workout is July 24.
Mandell and veteran Chris Jones are the only punters on the roster. Both know the team will only keep one.
Jones, who is 6-foot, 197 pounds, is starting his fourth season in the league and with Dallas. He played in two games with 10 punts in his first season before being named the regular punter for 2012, but he injured his knee and played in only four games before being placed on injured reserve.
Last season, he averaged 45 yards per punt, including a net of 39.1, with a long of 62 and 30 downed inside the 20.
Mandell is 6-2, 214 pounds. At Alabama, Mandell averaged 47.1 yards as a senior with 14 of his 39 punts covering 50 yards or more, and he had 15 inside the 20 on the way to second team All-SEC honors. He averaged 42.6 yards for his career with 58 inside the 20 and a long of 63.
Mandell created a buzz on the final day of minicamp when he hit the center-hung video board inside AT&T Stadium three times. However, coach Jason Garrett said the board was lower than its usual 90 feet. It had been lowered 12 days earlier for a George Strait concert.
“He’s your stereotypical specialist,” said rookie deep snapper Casey Kreiter, who roomed with Mandell briefly when they both arrived in Dallas. “He does his work. He does his job, and he does it consistently.”
Even Jones offered a positive early review of Mandell, who wears a size 10 1/2 shoe on his right foot for contact and a 12 on his left foot.
“He’s showing a lot of good things,” Jones said. “He does what he’s asked, all that kind of stuff. I think he’s the right kind of player.”
Making the team will come down to consistency, veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur said.
“It’s hard. It’s hard for anybody at our position — specialists — to be coming in, taking the job right away,” Ladouceur said. “I didn’t get it as well. I had to wait a little bit. It’s just a hard deal, but he’s got to work hard. You never know.”
If he makes the team, Mandell said Alabama coach Nick Saban’s 24-hour rule will still be intact. The rule allows players either to celebrate a win or cope with a loss for 24 hours before getting back to work.
“Saban’s 24-hour rule will always apply to my life. You can’t eat a steak dinner if you don’t win a championship,” Mandell said.