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One of Tampa Bay’s top priorities this offseason was to upgrade its woeful kicking game, which has finished ranked dead last in the NFL in field goal kicking percentage over the past two seasons.
The cap-strapped Bucs attempted to sign Falcons free agent kicker Jay Feeley in March, but they lost out on the bidding war with the New York Giants.
Martin Gramatica, who was released last November, is still on Tampa Bay’s books for about $2.5 million worth of dead money. That’s part of the reason why the Bucs couldn’t sign Feeley and settled on signing kicker Matt Bryant, who has connected on 80 percent of his career field goal attempts.
Gramatica remains unsigned after lower abdomen surgery, but the Bucs should rule out re-signing him. All it would take is one missed field goal at Raymond James Stadium for the boo birds to come out and crush Gramatica’s confidence.
Determined to add competition at the kicking position in camp, the Bucs signed signed kicker Todd France, who opened some eyes during his NFL Europe campaign.
When Tampa Bay entered training camp it believed the competition between Bryant and France would lead to one of the kickers emerging in camp and solidifying the Bucs’ kicking game.
But after one week of training camp practices, that hasn’t come close to happening. While both players have combined to make just over 80 percent of their field goal attempts, neither Bryant nor France has shown enough consistency to make people believe that the Bucs’ kicking woes are a thing of the past.
France is leading Bryant in this competition, but there’s no guarantee that either player will make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.
The biggest problem for the Bucs is there usually isn’t much to choose from in free agency this time of year.
But after further review, Tampa Bay may luck out after all and have the ability to sign a kicker who has had a phenomenal training camp thus far.
Former Florida State kicker Xavier Beitia is creating quite a buzz in New York, where he’s kicked extremely well as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Unless you follow the Seminoles closely, you probably haven’t heard much about Beitia, who made just 67-of-92 (72.8 percent) of his field goal tries as a four-year starter at FSU.
Unfortunately for Beitia, he’s probably best remembered for having twice missed game-winning field goal tries against the Miami Hurricanes during his sophomore and junior seasons.
So you’re probably wondering how a player with Beitia’s somewhat ordinary numbers and two big mishaps could possibly remedy Tampa Bay’s kicking problems.
Well, Beitia, who wasn’t really mentioned as one of the top kicking prospects leading up to the NFL Draft, got his shot in the NFL just after the draft when he worked out for New York special teams coach Mike Westhoff at Jesuit High School in Tampa, where Beitia graduated from.
It was on his home turf that Beitia drilled 32-of-33 field goal attempts, which earned him a pro contract.
The problem for Beitia was he signed with the New York Jets, who spent a second-round draft pick on kicker Mike Nugent, the top kicking prospect in April’s NFL Draft.
Beitia was brought to New York to serve as an extra leg in camp, but he’s done much more than that. According to several league sources, Beitia has noticeably out-kicked Nugent in camp, which is starting to catch the attention of people from around the NFL.
“He has improved,” Westhoff told Pewter Report. “Obviously we know what direction we are going. I worked him out, and he had a very good workout for me. His technique, there was a little bit of a quirkiness to it. I tried to get him to change when he came here. He struggled with it early, but then he got going. He has actually kicked very well. He is a strong kickoff guy. If he is able to be consistent with the little change, I think he is a candidate. He has kicked the ball pretty doggone well he recently. He has done a nice job. He’s a good kid.”
Beitia had 26 touchbacks on 68 of his kickoffs at FSU, and he made 174 of 178 extra point attempts, with all four of his misses coming during his freshman year.
His career totals included 26-of-30 (86.6 percent) on 20-29-yard attempts, 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) on 30-39-yard tries and 19-of-31 (61.2 percent) on 40-49-yard field goal attempts. Beitia was 1-of-2 (50 percent) on attempts from 50 yards or longer, and his career long came from 52 yards out.
Some thought Beitia was simply on a hot streak and would eventually cool off as some rookies do. While that could certainly come to fruition later in camp, Beitia isn’t showing any signs of cooling off. In fact, Beitia demonstrated how strong and accurate his leg can be by drilling 3-of-3 field goals from beyond 50 yards during the Jets’ training camp practice last Friday.
Because of the problems Bryant and France have had thus far in camp, some, including Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds, have already started to second-guess Tampa Bay’s decision to draft linebacker Barrett Ruud instead of Nugent in the second round.
But with the Jets having a second-round pick invested in Nugent, Beitia will ultimately be the odd man out, and his success in New York should prompt the Bucs to take a close look at bringing the Tampa native home when he hits the waiver wire within the next few weeks.
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