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WHAT THE BUCCANEERS ARE LOOKING FOR: Tampa Bay has had the worst field goal percentage in the NFL over the past two years, which has contributed mightily to the Bucs’ two consecutive losing seasons. Jay Taylor replaced the struggling Martin Gramatica at the end of 2004, but the Bucs want to get plenty of competition to take to training camp. Former NFL kicker Matt Bryant was signed in free agency, but the Bucs will likely add a rookie kicker as well. They have been targeting Ohio State’s Mike Nugent, who said Bucs coach Jon Gruden told him to purposefully shank some kicks at the Senior Bowl to guarantee that he would be around in the third round. Josh Bidwell did an adequate job punting last year in Tampa Bay. Punter is not a need in this year’s draft.
UPDATE: The real surprise for the Bucs this spring has been kicker Todd France who has made 8-of-9 field goals for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe. France may be a surprise challenger for Tampa Bay’s kicker position. Bryant did okay in the team’s first round of OTAs (organized team activities), but Taylor really struggled and looked bad. If the Bucs can’t draft Nugent, look for France, Bryant and a late-round draft pick to compete in training camp for the kicking duties.
IDEAL PLAYERS FOR THE BUCS’ SCHEME: This year’s Lou Groza award winner, Ohio State’s Mike Nugent, has been on the Buccaneers’ radar screen for some time now. He has great accuracy and savvy, having made several big kicks to win games for the Buckeyes. His kickoffs need improving and he has to adjust to kicking the NFL’s K-balls, which he has struggled to do this offseason. Still, Nugent will be the first kicker off the board, likely in the late second to early third round. He is a better prospect than San Diego’s Nate Kaeding was last year when the Chargers took him in the third round. Tennessee punter Dustin Colquitt is the best punting prospect and really wowed the Bucs at the Senior Bowl. Although Tampa Bay doesn’t need a punter, he is a rare talent, who has their attention. Kicker Jonathan Nichols won the Lou Groza Award as a junior, and played for Buccaneers tight ends coach Ron Middleton at Ole Miss. The Bucs also coached him at the Senior Bowl. He will likely be drafted in rounds 6-7. Boise State’s Tyler Jones is accurate and has made some clutch kicks. He’s another option in round 7.
UPDATE: As Pewter Report first suggested last fall, the Bucs want to draft Nugent, but want to spend their first third-round pick on him – not their second-round pick. Nugent is being targeted by some teams late in the second round, such as Minnesota, the New York Jets and possibly Atlanta, and may not be there in round three. If Nugent isn’t there, the Bucs may not even draft a kicker at all and stick with France and Bryant. But a more realistic scenario would be to spend a late-round pick on Nichols or Jones to be safe. It is doubtful that the Bucs would invest a draft pick in a punter due to other pressing needs, but Colquitt remains an option. Curiously, Bidwell did not participate in the first round of OTAs at One Buccaneer Place.
BUCS’ BEST BET – K MIKE NUGENT (Ohio State) Nugent was a big weapon at Ohio State, winning several games with clutch kicking, including a career-high 55-yard game-winner against Marshall last year. He is the top kicker prospect the 2005 draft. Tampa Bay interviewed him at the Senior Bowl and really fell in love with him.
CURRENT BUCS KICKERS-PUNTERS: Josh Bidwell (punter), Jay Taylor (kicker), Matt Bryant (kicker), Todd France (kicker), Brian Simnjanovski (punter)
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com