With all the moves made in free agency, the Bucs took the approach of adding important role players to their depth rather than making the “splashy” signing that they have in years past.
Veterans such as linebackers Deone Bucannon and Shaq Barrett were signed to reshape a new Bucs defense under Todd Bowles, while wide receiver Breshad Perriman was brought in at a less expensive cost at $4 million to replace some departing wide receivers.
Of all the signings and re-signings made by the Bucs, there was one that stood out to head coach Bruce Arians, and that was completing a deal for punter Bradley Pinion.
“I think our biggest signing was our punter,” Arians said while at the NFL Owners Meeting in Arizona. “When I came in that was a glaring thing – special teams.”
The importance of Pinion to Arians comes from his dual ability to be the team punter and also handle kickoff duties. Arians believes that taking this load off of Cairo Santos will lead to an even better year for Santos, and an overall stronger kicking game in both facets.
“Cairo now doesn’t have to kick off,” Arians said. “So hopefully we can get his range back because he’s not wearing himself out kicking off in practice. Now Bradley can do all that, so Bradley was a huge signing for us.”
Pinion handled kickoffs for all four of his years on the San Francisco 49ers. In 2018, he had 52 touchbacks, which came to an average of 65 percent of the time on kickoffs. In comparison, Santos had just 12 touchbacks on 32 kickoffs last season, coming in at 33 percent. This gives the Bucs a significant upgrade in this part of the game.
Kicking isn’t the only part of the Bucs special teams that Arians and new special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong would like to improve on. They would also like to upgrade on what was a dormant return game in 2018.
“We want to be aggressive in everything we do,” Arians said about the punt and kick return game. “Not to a point where it hurts us and we lost drastic field position. I don’t like anything that reads and reacts. I want to be aggressive and attack in all phases, and Keith, his reputation in Atlanta is fantastic. He’s another guy that played for me so he knows what I want.”
Outside of Shaun Wilson, Arians had another player on the Bucs roster that caught his eye when returning kicks. That was Dare Ogunbowale, who will get an opportunity to prove himself this training camp. Arians enjoys the way he runs, citing that not everyone has to have blinding speed.
“Well I really struggle with his name, but 44, he can run,” Arians said. “He’s got some natural ability back there, and as a punt returner, just wait and see. I’ve got to go out and see them catch the ball. It doesn’t always have to be a 4.3 guy, because one of the best I ever saw was a 4.7, because he could make the first guy miss.”