Kicker Martin Gramatica's playing days in Tampa Bay appear to be numbered.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spent Monday morning fielding questions from the media regarding Gramatica's kicking woes, which have been occurring since the start of the 2003 season.
Gramatica, who was 11-of-16 on field goal attempts heading into Sunday's contest in Carolina, missed two field goals from 39 and 37 yards out in the first and fourth quarter, respectively, and his 26-yard attempt in the second quarter was blocked by defensive end Julius Peppers. The Bucs, who dropped to 4-7 on the season with the 21-14 loss to the Panthers, certainly could've used those nine points.
In Week 6 at St. Louis, Gramatica missed two crucial field goal attempts, which some say cost Tampa Bay another much-needed win. With his three most recent misses, Gramatica is now 11-of-19 (57.8 percent) on the season.
Tuesday is normally the players' day off, but the fact that the Bucs will spend that day auditioning kickers could lead to a permanent vacation for Gramatica, who has made just 27-of-45 (60 percent) of his field goal tries since 2003.
"Well, we're going to bring another kicker in and evaluate who's available," said Gruden. "If we can improve our football team, we'll do everything we can to do that.
"We've zoomed in on a few guys. Once again, you've got to see who's available. That's what we're investigating, as we have been for the last couple of weeks when Martin was hurt."
Gramatica said he has prepared himself for the possibility of being released by the Bucs.
"I'm not worried, I don't know if I deserve to have a job here," said Gramatica. "That's just the way it is. I have done everything I could as far as working out and being prepared, and being as strong and as healthy as possible. Things haven't worked out. If I had the reason, I'd tell you or I had the answer I would've corrected it. The team needs to win games and obviously I am not helping. I'm prepared for whatever happens. I wish I could stay here, and I'm going to give the team all I got. That's what I've always done, give it all my effort. And that's basically all I can do."
In the week leading up to Tampa Bay's game at Atlanta, the Bucs signed K Jay Taylor to their practice squad because of a hip injury sustained by Gramatica, but Taylor was released two days after the Bucs lost to the Falcons, 24-14. Aside from Taylor, the Bucs have previously auditioned the following kickers this fall: Todd France (Toledo), Kirk Yliniemi (Oregon State), Dusty Apocotos (Cal-Davis), MacKenzie Hoambrecker (Northern Iowa) and James Thomas (Greensboro). The team may decide to bring back some of these kickers for another tryout on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay would have to release a player or place one on injured reserve in order to make room for a kicker on its 53-man roster. However, Gruden didn't rule out the possibility of the Bucs keeping two kickers on their active roster.
"We don't have any room on the roster, no," said Gruden. "So the roster, if we choose to go that route, obviously decisions have to be made.
"There are a lot of ways -- you could keep nine kickers if you really wanted to. We're just trying to make that an area of strength of ours. We'll see who's available. To sit here and project how many kickers or who the kickers are going to be is a little bit premature. But we are looking into the availability of placekickers, kickoff men to see who's out there. How that impacts decisions that we have to make on our roster will be decided.
"I come from a place where we drafted a kicker in the first round. That guy has got to make his shots and we will go to extreme measures to acquire a guy to get that done. Most of these games, I am not a mathematician, but the percentage of games that are decided by four, five points or less, is pretty revealing. If that's the phase of your football that is lacking or way behind, you're 32nd in accuracy, there's a good chance you are going to lose some tight games."
A 1999 third-round draft pick out of Kansas State, Gramatica was nicknamed "Automatica" by making 82 percent of his field goal attempts through his first four seasons in the NFL. He even earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2000 after drilling 82.4 percent of his field goal tries.
That's why Gruden and Co. have tried to patiently wait out Gramatica's slump, which has lingered far too long and has the Bucs' head coach dumbfounded.
"Yes it is," Gruden said when asked if Gramatica's kicking woes were shocking. "I don't know of an aspect of our football that we practice more. I think that we start every period, every practice with field goals. We have different drills to distract him to put him in a game like situation. He kicks extremely well on the practice field. There are a couple guys I know at the local golf course who hit the ball well on the range. When they get on that tee now, they see a lake over there, they see a sand trap and it's not quite the same. Now, whether that's a problem or whether he's distracted, whether it's mechanical flaws, in the course of the game certain things happen, I don't know. But he's not hitting the ball through the uprights and I can stand up here and talk about it all day. The bottom line is we have to get that squared away."
Gramatica's kicking woes date back to the 2003 offseason, which is when he underwent surgery to repair a hernia he had suffered during the Bucs' Super Bowl run. While his surgery was successful, several of his ensuing field goal attempts were not, evidenced by his 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) outing in '03.
Despite Gramatica's woes, the Bucs elected not to carry another kicker throughout the 2004 offseason and into training camp and preseason. That's something Gruden said he might have done differently had he known Gramatica's kicking problems would linger into the regular season.
"It is easy to say you could draft a guy in the second or third round, hindsight is a beautiful thing," Gruden said. "You are never wrong, you know what I mean. Then again, you could say if you are going to stay with a guy, be loyal to a guy, in which we have been criticized of not being here. There are a lot of different ways you could look at that. It is just unfortunate that the kid has not been able to perform to the standards that he has in the past. It's astonishing to me because he has been amazing here."
The Bucs had good reason to be loyal to Gramatica. He did, after all, receive a loyal and lucrative, seven-year contract extension during the 2002 offseason. That contract, which was executed by former Bucs general manager Rich McKay, put Gramatica under contract through the 2008 season and could make releasing him quite expensive since he received what was believed to be a signing bonus worth around $2 million.
"I don't know about all that," Gruden said when asked if the Bucs would take a substantial salary cap hit if they released Gramatica. "I think the number one thing is, let's address that area of our football team, to see if there is any way possible we can improve there."
The Bucs don't appear to have much confidence in Gramatica, who has missed seven of his last nine field goal attempts, and Gruden suggested Gramatica may not even have much confidence in himself at this point.
"I'm not going to sit here and answer all of the questions for him," Gruden said. "All I know is he missed three field goals yesterday. He missed a couple in St. Louis, missed one in the dome in New Orleans. We had struggles with an extra point with a high snap I guess, against Kansas City. His kickoffs have improved. But that's an aspect of your football team that where I come from, every team I think I've been on the kicker is your leading scorer at the end of every season and those are plays that need to be made. Is his confidence shaking? He needs to answer that, but I would assume it is. Yes."
The most difficult part for Gramatica is the fact that he can't figure what he's been doing differently over the past year and half.
"That's the most frustrating thing about it -- I don't (see anything different)," said Gramatica. "I don't see anything that I can correct. Obviously I need to do something or correct something, but it's not obvious right away. I can't really see it on film. I haven't seen it. That's why it's so frustrating not to be able to fix it."
But if given the opportunity to remain a Buccaneer, Gramatica believes he can get out of the slump and return to form.
"Yes, for sure," Gramatica said when asked if he could turn it around. "That's one thing I'll never do; I'll never give up. Hopefully it will be here. I feel I'm going to be here. I hope that's going to be. The one thing I can guarantee is that I'm going to do everything I can to turn it around. I'm going to put all my effort into working out and being the best kicker I can be. It just hasn't happened and hopefully I can turn it around."
While the Bucs audition kickers, which will likely lead to a signing by Wednesday at the latest, Gruden and the Bucs coaching staff will determine Gramatica's fate.
"I don't know what I'm considering right now," Gruden said when asked if he was considering releasing Gramatica. "All I know is, I'm considering doing everything we've got to do to improve that aspect of our football team. Clearly, it's been a sore thumb for us this season."
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