In this week’s Bucs Shots, which is the final installment of this offseason Pewter Insider article for 2007 since training and the ’07 season are just around the corner, Pewter Report editor-in-chief Jim Flynn sounds off on message board RPC’s question regarding the candidates to win the kickoff and punt return jobs in Tampa Bay in training camp and preseason.

Pewter Report – Buchanon: Return Game – Posted On July 15, 2007 by RPC

It seems like from the articles and buzz around here like the Bucs are honing in on the Chad Ownes/Mark Jones competition for the return man job. Or at least for the punt return job.

You also hear a cast of names (Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham, Kenneth Darby, Torrie Cox even Cadillac Williams and David Boston) as far as getting kickoff return work over the offseason and then Phillip Buchanon is only mentioned in passing.

Why is that?

Buchanon was a good college returner and had some success earlier in his pro career as a punt returner. Why isn't he getting more looks there? In my opinion, he should be the primary candidate for at least the punt return job and should get some looks at kick return, too.

Admittedly, the Bucs gave him a few looks last year and he had some questionable decisions on fair catches. But you can’t deny the guy's athleticism and resume’ as a returner. People complain about Jones and Owens being "one trick ponies" yet Buchannon is the nickel cornerback and could fill the at least the punt return role.

Jim Flynn’s response to RPC’s post

That’s an astute observation on your part, RPC. Several Bucs players will be given the opportunity to win the punt and kickoff return duties in training camp and preseason, including cornerback Phillip Buchanon.

Although he averaged just 6.8 yards per punt return on 14 attempts and 21.2 yards per kickoff return on five tries in 2006, Buchanon made a name for himself as an explosive punt return specialist in Oakland.

The former 2002 first-round draft pick has returned 98 career punts for 986 yards (10.1 avg.) and scored three touchdowns. Thirteen of his 98 attempts went for 20-plus yards. Those are good numbers, and certainly the type the Bucs could use. But unfortunately Buchanon wasn’t able to make a splash as a return man in Tampa Bay last season.

In Buchanon’s defense, no one has been able to solidify Tampa Bay’s kickoff or punt return jobs under special teams coach Richard Bisaccia.

Last season, the Bucs ranked 30th in punt returns (6.5 avg.) and 25th in kickoff returns (21.5 avg.). As a result, Tampa Bay’s offense had an average starting field position of the 26.3 yard line. To put that number in perspective, only nine of the NFL’s 32 teams had worse average starting field position than the Bucs in 2006.

Of course, the opposing teams’ end zone still eludes the Buccaneers as far as kickoff returns are concerned. The Bucs have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their 31-year history. That’s right. Tampa Bay has returned 1,825 kickoff returns without scoring a touchdown in a regular season game.

If that isn’t the most ridiculous statistic in the NFL, I don’t know what it. Well, perhaps quarterback Rob Johnson’s 140 career sacks in 48 (29 starts) regular season games is even worse, but you probably get my drift.

The Bucs are indeed taking a look at several players, including Mark Jones, Chad Owens, Earnest Graham, David Boston, Ike Hilliard, Cadillac Williams and others at the punt and kickoff return positions, or at least they did during the offseason.

But just because a player doesn’t take a lot of reps as a punt or kickoff returner during the offseason doesn’t mean they’re not a candidate to win the job.

Remember – Michael Pittman received very little work as a kickoff returner during the 2006 offseason, training camp and preseason. But the reality was the job was his to lose. The Bucs had seen enough from him in the latter part of the previous season to believe he was their man for the job.

Last year, the Bucs used offseason, training camp and preseason reps to take a look at the players they didn’t know a lot about, and that’s what they likely will do this year. The Bucs know what Buchanon can do as a return specialist, so players, especially the ones fighting for roster spots, will be given more opportunities to prove whether they’re worthy of making the 53-man roster.

It’s early, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Buchanon were Tampa Bay’s punt and kickoff return specialist in Week 1 against Seattle.

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