If you would have polled Bucs fans prior to Saturday, and asked them the one position the Bucs would without question not draft, it would have been nearly unanimous – a placekicker.
They would have been wrong.
Not only did the Bucs take a kicker – again, insert Roberto Aguayo comments here – they did so in the fifth round with a number of players that many felt could have helped the Bucs more than a kicker to come in and compete with incumbent Cairo Santos.
In two years handling kicking duties at the University of Utah, Gay drilled all 85 of his extra point attempts and converted on 56 of his total 65 field goal attempts for a conversion rate of 86 percent, including 72 p[ercent from 50 or more yards. He’s got a booming leg that can extend beyond 60 yards if asked and he also won the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s top placekicker in 2017.
Bucs’ general manager Jason Licht was not ashamed and vehemently made a case for why the Bucs gambled on Utah’s Matt Gay after being peppered with questions during his post-draft press conference.
“He’s a big guy with a big leg and he’s also accurate, so those are a lot of good things that we like about him,” Licht said late in the day after the Buccaneers had selected their new players. “He kicks in Utah, but he’s also good at sea level. He can kick it far at sea level as well. We liked him as a person. We think he’s a very confident guy and we’ve exhausted everything we can to try to find a kicker. We’ll continue to, like every other position. We’ve drafted one, signed free agents, UFAs, street free agents, gone to Denmark, so we like this guy. Like I said, like all positions, we will continue to do what we can to try to find the guy we like.”
Dealing with the pressure of making a game-wining kick is one of the toughest things to do, not just in football, but in all of sports. All eyes are on you and while there were other plays in a game that determine the outcome, at that moment, a kicker is in the crosshairs. Gay told the media he doesn’t shy away from that, although those opportunities have been few and far between.
“I’ve never had any last second game winners, but down the stretch with a few minutes left to tie the game or put us ahead, I’ve had quite a few,” Gay said. “I feel like I handle pressure pretty well and I remain calm, I’m able to stay stable in those moments and be able to hit those, to give my team a chance. I know my team trusts me and that helps my confidence to go out there because they have all the faith in me, so, I’m just kind of confident in those moments and again I just feel comfortable in those pressure situations.”
Licht didn’t seem concerned with a lack of pressure chances during Gay’s college career.
“You’d like to see guys make big kicks in big moments, obviously,” Licht said. “The kicker is a very important position. It’s one of the most important positions on the team. Right now we have a coach who really believes in kickers and the importance of it and stresses it. He’s got a kicking background with his son Jake who is a good friend of mine that was a kicker. When Bruce was hired, we had several discussions about what we were going to do to refine the ways that we do things in terms of finding a good kicker.
“We still like Cairo [Santos]. We think Cairo has been really improving so far in the offseason here and we hired [Specialist Coach] Chris Boniol. Chris is a very good ‘swing doctor’ in terms of his experience as a kicker and also as a coach in college and in the NFL. Keith Armstrong is an awesome special teams coach, as well as Amos Jones. Obviously I’m trying to tell you that we put a lot of stress into the importance of all special teams, but especially kicker.”
Licht said the kicking competition is wide open and there are no favorites at this point.
“You take any position in the fifth round, it’s not an automatic – you’re saying he’s automatically made the team,” Licht said. “We want to bring in great competition for Cairo. We will let them kick it out through the preseason. May the best man win, but if Matt happens to win it, we have [punter] Bradley [Pinion] who is an elite kickoff guy in the NFL. He has proven that. I don’t see why we would stop using him in that role. It saves wear and tear on a kicker’s leg when you have that.”