The NFL and the NFL Players Association have come to an agreement on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and NFL training camps have opened up across the country, including in Tampa Bay. PewterReport.com offers up its analysis of each position on the Buccaneers as new quarterback Tom Brady and his teammates prepare for the 2020 season.
Special Teams Room
Table of Contents
K Matt Gay | Age: 26 | NFL Exp.: 2nd season | 6-0, 232 K Elliot Fry | Age: 25 | NFL Exp: 1st season | 6-0, 170 P Bradley Pinion | Age: 26 | NFL Exp.: | 6th season 6-5, 240 LS Zach Triner | Age: 29 | NFL Exp.: 2nd season | 6-2, 247 KR/PR T.J. Logan | Age: 25 | NFL Exp.: 4th season | 5-11, 195 KR/PR Raymond Calais | Age: 22 | NFL Exp.: Rookie | 5-8, 188 KR Dare Ogunbowale | Age : 26 | NFL Exp.: 2nd season | 5-11, 220
You could say that a lot is on the line for Matt Gay as he enters his second season in the NFL. I won’t put a make-or-break label on it, but many will be paying attention to each kicking opportunity presented when he trots out onto the field. Gay had a roller coaster of a rookie season in 2019, posting a strong 84.4 success rate on field goal attempts heading into the final game of the season, when three costly missed kicks dropped his percentage to 77 to end the year.
There’s plenty to like about Gay’s kicking game. He’s as strong of a kicker as you’ll find in this league, which was proven by his 58-yard field goal against the Rams, his personal best kick last season. He’s also shown the range to make one from 60 should he find himself in that situation. Gay hit his extra points 89 percent of the time last season, but a couple of mishaps during the year were troubling. Outside of the three missed field goals in Week 17, Gay also had a rough game in Week 3 at home against the Giants, where he missed two extra points and a game-winning field goal from 33 yards away. 33 yards out was an issue all season for Gay, particularly in the south end zone of Raymond James Stadium. Bruce Arians said that Gay will be kicking there quite often during training camp to work through any potential issues.
There were bright spots during the season, though the blowups can’t help but remind you about the Bucs’ kicker curse that has gone on since Matt Bryant left the team. Should two bad games overshadow what otherwise was a pretty good rookie season? While I believe in certain superstitious things like the Bucs’ kicker curse, I also believe that curses can be broken. Nonetheless, each kicking attempt that Gay has this year will be a storyline. Elliot Fry is here for some kicking competition, but Gay would really have to have an abysmal training camp to lose the job.
Bradley Pinion became a big help for the Bucs by taking the kickoff duties so Gay could focus on field goals. Pinion led the NFL in touchbacks with a rate of 90 percent on the season. As a punter, Pinion didn’t really ever put the Bucs in any bad situations or make any crucial mistakes. He averaged 43 yards per punt and had a long of 63, with 19 punts landing inside the 20. Pinion did what was asked of him, and the coaching staff has been pleased with his performance. Long snapper Zack Triner had no issues snapping to Pinion on punts or for the hold on field goals. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Bucs’ return game has not been up to par over the years, and that’s an area that could use some improvement this season. Logan is the team’s top return specialist, signing with the Bucs right before the start of the 2019 season after playing for Bruce Arians in Arizona. Calais, the Bucs’ seventh round pick, was brought in specifically because of his speed and experience in the return game. We’ll break this down as the number one battle for this unit.
Camp Battle To Watch: Returner – Logan vs. Calais
It’s essentially coming down to a one-on-one matchup between Logan and Calais for kick and punt returner. Depending on how Arians formulates his roster, this may be the only way either of these players make the team. While Logan technically is a running back, he was brought in here to return kicks. Last season on kick return, Logan had 13 runbacks that came out to an average of 20.8 yards, with a long of 39. They weren’t stellar numbers, but with only 13 returns, that placed him 30th in attempts.
Logan fared better as a punt returner after replacing Bobo Wilson, where he averaged 9.5 yards per return, also on 13 attempts. Logan’s familiarity with the Bucs’ scheme and positive impressions on the coaching staff last year should go a long way toward helping him earn a roster spot in a shortened training camp.
Calais is also in competition for the third down running back role, but that is a crowded room and the quickest path to making the team comes as a returner. He’s small in stature at 5-8, but makes up for it with trail blazing speed. At Louisiana, Calais managed to get better each season at kick return, he scored his only two special teams touchdowns during his sophomore season and eventually averaged his personal best of 28.5 yards per return as a senior. If you’re looking for someone that can break a big play at any moment, Calais is your guy.
The question is, how much will a lack of preseason action hurt Calais’ chances? Many players make the team because of what they do on special teams, and at times you can only prove yourself in the return game when facing competition that isn’t your own teammates. Bruce Arians said they’ll go live for special teams as much as they can, but how much it can replicate a real game is to be determined.
I would tend to choose the rookie Calais due to his speed and because we’ve already seen what we’ll get from Logan. It’s time to shake up the return game.
The Sleeper: RB Dare Ogunbowale
Dare Ogunbowale isn’t a name that you’re unfamiliar with. He was a special teams captain last season, playing an important role on this unit. Ogunbowale is a sleeper on this year’s roster, not because you don’t know who he is, but because there’s a chance he could be the Bucs’ returner if some kind of injury were to happen or a lack of production occurs. When T.J. Logan broke his wrist on a Friday practice towards the end of the season, it was Ogunbowale that took over for kick returns, taking out 12 kicks for an average of 20.8 yards.
What if the Bucs’ starter goes down with an injury last second again? What if Tampa Bay is looking for a spark in the return game? Ogunbowale can be trusted, and his vision as a running back helps too.
Another option would be Scotty Miller, who took one punt return in a preseason game, or Justin Watson, who had two punt returns for three yards when he filled in for an injured Logan. At the end of the day, it’s going to be Logan or Calais taking the punt and kick returns this season. Just keep in mind that if something unforeseen happens, Ogunbowale could be the next man up.