One of the more surprising decisions made by Tampa Bay this preseason was showing veteran kicker Connor Barth the door and giving the duties to little-known rookie Patrick Murray.
A quick glance at the former Fordham University kicker’s league-low 69.2 conversion percentage on field goals may seem like the team made an error in judgment. But that’s not the case, and the Bucs are every bit as confident in their 23-year-old kicker as they were when they tossed him the reins in late August.
“Lot of confidence in him and he’s earned all of it,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said Thursday. “We’ve talked about him just being our kicker, and earning his way into that spot. He hit a lot of balls to be able to do that. He’s confident, you guys talked with him, he doesn’t need a pep talk. He’s pretty much been on point before the game, telling me exactly where his range was. Couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s done. Just a good pickup for our team.”
He’s not exactly sure when he noticed it, but Murray said he recognizes the coaching staff’s growing comfort level in running him out there no matter the situation.
“Absolutely there was a moment,” Murray said during Thursday’s open locker room. “I can’t pinpoint that moment exactly, but we practice every week and we kick 50-plus yard field goals every week, so it’s just constantly making them in practice and telling coach, ‘Look, if you put me out there I can get the job done.’ That gave him confidence and ultimately gave me confidence when I went out there.”
Where Murray has excelled this season is booting long field goals of 50-plus yards. He’s hit on 4 of 5 attempts from that distance, with a long of 55 yards at New Orleans and the lone miss on a 55-yarder at Cleveland. Only Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey has hit more times (5 of 6) from 50-plus yards this season and Murray is one of four in the NFL to hit at least four from that lengthy distance.
“I’ve always had a live leg and coaches have always let me kick those longer kicks,” he said. “I don’t feel the pressure. To me, I kick the same ball every single time, whether I’m kicking an extra point or a 50-plus yard field goal. That’s something my dad taught me a long time ago when he first taught me how to kick a football. But three points is three points, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 21-yard kick or a 57-yard kick. As long as the points go up on the board.”
Dragging Murray’s percentage down this season are the two midrange-to-short field goals he’s had blocked this season – a 24-yarder against St. Louis and a 31-yarder in Cleveland. His two clean misses were the 55-yarder in Cleveland and a 45-yarder against Baltimore that had plenty of leg but clanked off the right upright.
“You obviously want to be 100 percent on the year and it’s tough to go 100 percent,” Murray said, “but the fact that Coach Smith has the confidence in me to kick these long kicks just gives me more and more confidence every time I’m out there.”
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