With Tampa Bay players charged with the responsibility of working out on their own, the Buccaneers were fortunate to have only one offseason injury this year during the 132-day NFL lockout. Andrew Economos, who has been the team’s long snapper for the past four seasons, tore his Achilles tendon while working out with teammates nearly five months ago.
“I was doing a workout with some of the guys on the team in early April, and it was just kind of a freak deal,” Economos said. “We weren’t even going really hard. We were just doing some footwork and change of direction stuff and it just popped.”
Achilles tendon tears can occur at any time and there is little that can be done to prevent those types of injuries.
“The more and more I find out about it, it’s kind of just something that happens,” Economos said. “I saw today that there were three guys [in the NFL] that have done that since camp started. I hope that’s not the injury bug this year.”
While he rehabs the injury, Economos is not participating in team drills during training camp, but he hopes to be available for the season opener against Detroit on September 11 after another month’s worth of rest and rehabilitation.
“That’s my plan and that’s my goal,” Economos said. “It’s been my goal since it happened and that’s not going to chance. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen. But that’s my goal for right now.
“It’s going really well. We’re pushing it about as hard as you can push it. [Director of rehabilitation] Shannon [Merrick], [assistant athletic director] Pat [Jernigan], and [director of sports medicine] Todd [Toriscelli] are really on the ball as far as my rehab is going. It’s coming along. It’s not like I do a hard day and then have to back it off the next day, so it’s close. It’s just that last little bit and we have to get there. I’m optimistic that I’ll be ready to go at the beginning of the season."
Economos said that when he hurt his Achilles tendon he instantly lost the ability to walk and knew that it was a serious injury.
“Mine ruptured completely right when it happened,” Economos said. “I knew what it was right away just from hearing about the injury from other people. It was a hard hit. I was looking forward to having a healthy offseason. It took a couple days, but I got over it and started pushing forward.”
What is aiding Economos’ recovering is the fact that his tear occurred in the middle of the Achilles tendon. Some Achilles tendon tears are season-ending injuries, and that is what Tampa Bay’s long snapper feared had happened at the time he got hurt.
“I did think it was bad when it happened,” Economos said. “You hear anywhere from six months to a year, and it’s different for everyone. My prognosis was a little better because it ruptured right in the middle of the tendon. If it pulls away from the heel or pulls away from the calf it’s usually a lot longer of a recovery. It was sort of the best-case scenario when it did happen. You get [that kind of news] which makes you a little more optimistic. With all the football trainers around the league and the amount of injuries that football has to deal with, usually the guys are a step ahead of the trainers. When they said six months, I knew I could get back quicker. We’re at about four months right now and I’m close.”
When Economos takes the field again for the Buccaneers he will do so under a new special teams coordinator. Dwayne Stukes, a long-time special teams and defensive backs assistant coach has replaced Richard Bisaccia as Tampa Bay’s special teams coordinator. Bisaccia, who was with the Buccaneers since 2002 before joining San Diego’s coaching staff this offseason, mentored Stukes.
Economos does not expect any drop off in the level of special teams performance with Stukes now at the helm.
“No, not at all,” Economos said. “Coach Stukes’ first year was my first year here. We have a great relationship. He knows the system as well as anybody, he teaches it as well as anybody, and I think he relates to the players on a level that this coaching staff is preaching. We’re excited to have him. I was excited for him when he got the job and I’m looking forward to [working with him]. It’s going to be a fun year with him there.”
Stukes also looks forward to working with Economos again as the pair have been together for five seasons.
"I've been working with Eco since 2006," Stukes said. "He was one of the first snappers that I've ever worked with besides Dave Moore when I was Rich's assistant. We have a good bond and a good relationship. He's one of our captains on special teams. He's really taken on a role where guys look up to him and they don't think of him as just a snapper. That's important in a room where they see an older guy because our locker room is young. He's one of our older guys and guys really do look up to him."
While Connor Barth returns for his third season as Tampa Bay’s kicker, Economos will be snapping to a new punter in Michael Koenen, who was signed away from Atlanta during free agency with a six-year, $19-million contract.
“We’ve talked over the years since we play them a couple times a year and he seems like a great guy,” Economos said. “We’re definitely glad to have him here to contribute. I know he’s happy to be here. It helps having a veteran who’s been around, especially at that position. We’re really excited to have him.”
While Economos likely will not participate in the preseason, the Bucs will have undrafted free agent Christian Yount handling the long-snapping duties in the four exhibition contests this summer. Stukes is confident that Yount can handle that responsibility for the Bucs in Economos' absence.
"I think Christian Yount has come in and shown that he is an NFL caliber snapper," said Stukes. "Of course, once the games start and he has to adjust to the NFL speed, then we will really get a gauge on how good he is. Right now during practice he has shown the ability to snap well with good times and protect well, so I feel good about our situation. I prefer If Eco did not get hurt, but things happen and you have to adjust. I think our scouts did a great job finding a snapper that can come in and help us."
- Andrew Scavelli contributed to this story