When you trade up into the second round to take a placekicker, you can’t miss. No pun intended.
While it is too soon to say if general manager Jason Licht kicked a game-winner, or clanked it off the left upright with the selection of Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, special teams coach Nate Kaczor sees signs that point to Aguayo being up for the challenge of a bounce back season.
“I would say like most second year players, he’s probably in a different place mentally from maturity and seeing what the NFL looks like under the covers, so to speak,” Kaczor said. “There’s a big learning curve for any pro athlete to come and go through their first year, particularly at a young age. I would just say, as a human being, as a football player, that he is in a different place in terms of maturity. Not saying that he’s mature yet, but obviously that’s a work in process. I think he is on the way to becoming a more mature football player, which usually helps development.”
Aguayo started his rookie campaign shaky, with early inconsistencies and struggles followed up by a solid stretch late in the season, minus the final game against the Panthers. One of the glaring stats in a season marred with frustration for Aguayo, the team and fans alike, was his inability to hit a field goal longer than 43 yards.
Kaczor said as a special teams coach with a struggling kicker, you also have to be part time psychologist.
“I would say the blanket answer for that, in general as it is a general phenomenon, the fact that once you start a season, and I said this last year, messing with mechanics during the middle of a season is hard to do,” Kaczor said. “But coaching the mind, whether it’s a kicker, a quarterback, a guard, whatever, linebacker. Helping players play with confidence and playing within our scheme and developing schemes that can help them play fast and with confidence, that’s our job and part of our job. I would agree with your statement that we’re always working on the mind and trying to help our players with the game and the physical part.
“There’s always some mechanical fine tuning going on, that’s really obvious. But probably the last thing someone wants to think about when they’re working through some issues is mechanics. Like you said, a lot of times if you can just keep them in a good place mentally, that really helps. It never hurts to have them feel good about themselves.”
The Buccaneers aren’t afraid to cut their losses on struggling players. Of the big free agent signings in 2014, Licht’s first year on the job – tackle Anthony Collins, quarterback Josh McCown and defensive end Michael Johnson – all were released after just one season. Even draft picks aren’t safe as the Bucs gave up on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, also a second rounder, after just over two years.
The Buccaneers would probably love nothing more than to see Aguayo come out in training camp and unequivocally lock down the job with a great preseason. But free agent aquisitio Nick Folk wasn’t brought in to just be camp fodder. Licht and the Glazers have already proven they won’t hold onto a player because of just draft status or big free agency salary. Former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville coined the acronym for the NFL as – Not For Long – and it applies equally for players coaches and general managers. The Bucs want to win and win now, and won’t keep a player they don’t have 100 percent confidence in.
The good news is, by all early indications, Aguayo is better prepared for Year 2 in the NFL than he was as a rookie.
– Taylor Jennings contributed to this report