Tampa Bay return specialist Clifton Smith and new punter Sam Paulescu met well before the former Dallas Cowboy joined the Bucs earlier this week. Paulescu's tackle on Smith in Dallas last year made highlight reels, but Smith said he's a better player for it.
New Bucs punter Sam Paulescu is still learning his way around One Buccaneer Place, but at least one player - return specialist Clifton Smith - is already quite familiar with him from their meeting last year.
Smith made his NFL regular season debut in Dallas after he was called up from the practice squad to replace wide receiver Dexter Jackson as the team's return specialist.
The former undrafted free agent was impressive in his debut in Dallas. Although he went on to score two touchdowns on special teams as a rookie, Smith might have had a third had it not been for Paulescu, who secured an impressive form tackle on Smith
that made highlight reels.
"Yeah, I remember that. It was my welcome to the NFL moment," said Smith. "He was the first to get me, so I tip my hat off to him. He just made me a better player from there. I always knew to watch out for kickers and punters after that one."
While his teammates and coaches gave him a hard time over getting tackled by a punter, Smith had the last laugh. He went on to average 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 14.1 yards per punt return en route to the Pro Bowl.
Paulescu's hit on Smith obviously made an impression on the Bucs, who brought him in to work out with a few other punters on Tuesday after losing Dirk Johnson to a season-ending hamstring injury.
According to Paulescu, Smith isn't the only one that remembers his form tackle on the elusive return specialist.
"I haven't talked to Clifton yet," Paulescu said. "When I first came here yesterday, [rookie wide receiver] Sammie Stroughter was talking to me a little bit. Some of the guys were giving [Clifton] a hard time and messing with him a little bit. I tell this to everybody - I might have nailed him, but it hurt me more than it hurt him. My neck for the next four days - I was hurting. He's a great athlete and he got a great punt return regardless. I'm excited to be here and play with Clifton and the rest of the guys here."
Paulescu, 25, is hoping to fill the void left by Johnson and Josh Bidwell, who landed on injured reserve during training camp. The former Oregon State product averaged 42.4 yards per punt on 61 career attempts. He has a career long of 70 with 15 punts placed inside the 20-yard line while punting for Denver, Dallas and Washington.
"If you get in one game here and one game there and [the coaches] see some film and they start talking and it just opens up opportunities," Paulescu said. "I'm excited to play on Sunday and we'll take it one day at a time."
Smith, who is averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.1 yards per punt return this year, put Paulescu's tackle behind him a long time ago. This week, he's focused on the Carolina Panthers, the team that knocked him out of the meeting on Oct. 18 due to Dante Wesley's illegal hit, which gave Smith a concussion and sidelined him for a week.
Stroughter returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in place of Smith in that contest. Wesley apologized for his actions, and Smith accepted, suggesting he doesn't have a score to settle. Instead, Smith is hoping to score his first touchdown of the season in Carolina on Sunday.
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