When Bruce Arians was hired by the Bucs to become their new head coach, he knew changes needed to be made on special teams. That’s why coordinator Keith Armstrong was brought in from Atlanta to change up what had been an unimpressive special teams unit under Dirk Koetter and Nate Kaczor.
Besides the long-standing Bucs’ kicker curse that has plagued the team for years, Tampa Bay’s punt return game has not fared much better either.
For instance, Adam Humphries, the team’s main punt returner last season, averaged 6.6 yards per return. That was second worst in the NFL for punt returners that averaged a least one return per game. His long return of 16 yards per game was worst in the league. Long story short, this area in the Bucs game was absent or at least not prioritized.
New special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong has a plan to reshape all of the Bucs’ special teams, and it’s from good old-fashioned competition.
“Everybody’s got to be accountable,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to create competition, that’s why we had a bunch of guys in, we let a couple of guys go, that’s why we’re doing it, we’re trying to create competition and find out what’s out there and try to solve the problem. The biggest thing is we got to be consistent.”
Humphries has now since moved on to the Titans and his role will have to be replaced. Armstrong already has his eyes on a few players that are still trying to make a name for themselves, and could get the first crack of competition for the job.
“There’s a couple guys we’re going to bring in,” Armstrong said when speaking to the media last Thursday. “Obviously the Miller kid (Scotty Miller) would be an option, you’ve got Bobo (Wilson) here, we’ve got Dare (Ogunbowale) here as well. We’ve got some options and were going to look at that in the rookie mini-camp, and once we can get the jug machine going and the guys can start catching balls in the OTAs, we’ll get started with it.”
There’s something to be said about giving this role to a player that is more willing or hungry to make a name in this league. Miller is obviously a rookie that has to prove that he can compete at this level. Wilson is a two-year player that’s spent most of his time on the practice squad, only participating in eight career games.
Ogunbowale is another player that’s spent most of his career on the practice squad, appearing in just four games over two seasons. In that small amount of playing time though, Ogunbowale has shown a flash that caught the attention of Armstrong, that could potentially give him the first shot at being the Bucs’ returner.
It happened week 11 against the Giants, where Ogunbowale had seven kick returns for 137 yards, with an average of 19.6 yards per return. Something about that game stood out to Armstrong when watching the film, and it all had to with Obgunwale’s style of running.
“Physical,” Armstrong said. “Gets up the field, vertical. I think it was the Giants game up in New York, he hit the crease and took it, and I mean took it. A lot of guys would have just danced in the hole and would of tried to duck and take a hit, but he hit it. I like the fact that he likes to get the ball up the field, doesn’t waste a whole lot of time, when there’s a crease, he hits it. Now whether he can make anybody miss in the hole or not, as long as we can knock that thing out and create drive starts, knock the ball out to the 30 yard-line, now you’re getting what you want. Then the big plays are going to come after that.”
Armstrong went on total about two players that have stood out to him on special teams – Jordan Whitehead and Dare Ogunbowale.
The abundance of competition hasn’t just stopped on that side of the ball, as Armstrong is flooding the kicking game as well. Even after re-signing Cairo Santos, the Bucs drafted kicker Matt Gay in the fifth round, where these two will battle out during training camp for the starting job.
Who will be kicking off for the Bucs is also up in the air. Punter Bradley Pinion was signed this offseason with the idea that he would take kickoff duties while Santos focused on field goals and extra points. Now by drafting Matt Gay, it opens up some more competition for this role on the Bucs.
To Armstrong, having all these players compete will only lead to a better product on the field.
“When we came here we said we were going to create competition,” Armstrong said. “We feel like if we have two kickers, and one of them that can kick off really well and we have a punter that kicks off, then we have competition. How do you make people better? Competition. Well, we got competition.”