Offense and defense were not the only units in need of players to step in and step up. All three units contributed to Tampa Bay’s 32-6 win over Carolina on Sunday. In fact, it was the special teams that consistently caught the eye of head coach Bruce Arians.
Last year, Ryan Succop was a quality pickup for the team after years of inconsistent kickers. The 35-year-old kicker had a successful 2020, but has had a few bad moments in 2021. Luckily, none of those stumbling blocks were apparent Sunday as he tallied 14 of the Bucs 32 points against the Panthers.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Arians said on Bucs Total Access. “He nailed that last one from 44, 45 – whatever it was. It was way up in the net. I really liked the way he kicked. Some of it was field conditions (on the misses this season). But, for him, it’s just a matter of ‘don’t pull it left’.”
Bucs P Bradley Pinion – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As the interview continued, Arians praised several seldom-used specialists. Due to Bradley Pinion’s hip injury and Jaelon Darden on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Bucs activated punter Sterling Hofrichter and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Pinion has tried to push through injury and play, Arians knew last week was the time to call on reinforcements.
“After Thursday’s practice,” Arians said when asked when he decided that Hofrichter would be active. “Bradley just didn’t look himself. He’s been nursing a hip injury all year. I talked to him about, ‘Will one week help?’. And he said, ‘Definitely. Because this is the best I’ve felt.’ So take a week off, and hopefully he’s back full speed for the rest of the season.”
Unfortunately, Pinion has not practiced on Wednesday or Thursday this week. Hofrichter might get another opportunity to shine this week in New York. The former Falcon averaged 41 yards per punt and placed one boot inside the 20 in Carolina. Hofrichter’s kickoffs were also outstanding, consistently landing right around the opposing goal line.
“Sterling came in and did a heck of a job,” Arians said. “He’s not a rookie, he’s a vet. He was in our division last year and kicked off well. We covered kickoffs well and he punted really well.”
As for Darden’s replacement, veteran running back Kenjon Barner is no stranger to this roster. In 2020, the 5’9 running back returned 13 punts for 75 yards and returned seven kickoffs for 167 yards. In his first opportunity of the 2021 season, Barner had five returns for 44 yards, including one 20-yard punt return.
Bucs LB Grant Stuard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I thought he was outstanding,” Arians said. “That’s why we brought him back. He’s done a great job for us last year. He’s a veteran, makes great decisions and he gets north and south quick.”
The Bucs kickoff coverage has also been much-improved over the past few weeks. One of the big reasons has been the play of rookie linebacker Grant Stuard. He leads the team in special teams tackles with eight, doubling the next closest player.
“Those two young linebackers, K.J. and Grant, they jumped in there and did a heck of a job,” Arians said. “Grant did a hell of a job on kickoff coverage, as did Cam Gill. Gill got a lot of snaps, played really, really well. Got pressures (on defense). So yeah, I was really happy with everybody. Everybody that dressed, I think, got in the game.”
It’s a good sign to see players stepping up across the board. It will be all hands-on deck again for Sunday’s game against the Jets.