The 2019 season marked the eighth consecutive year of the Bucs kicking off (no pun intended) their Week 1 matchup with a new starting kicker on the roster, and now that kicker is in danger of losing his job and continuing an unenviable streak in Tampa Bay.
After a tough stretch to end last season for rookie kicker Matt Gay, Tampa Bay added former South Carolina and Orlando Apollos kicker Elliott Fry to bring competition to the position throughout training camp. According to head coach Bruce Arians, it’s been one heck of a battle so far.
“It’s an ongoing competition and we’ll add them up at the end,” Arians said. “They both hit the game-winners in the pressure situations today so it’s a shame we don’t have preseason games to throw them out there and find out, but Elliott’s kicking well.”
The Bucs’ kicking woes have been well-documented over the past decade, highlighted by trading up in the second round to draft Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo in 2016, only for him to be released the following offseason. Tampa Bay hoped their problems were solved heading into the 2019 season, after kicker Matt Gay, drafted in the fifth round, nailed two game-winning field goals during his rookie preseason.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as Bucs fans likely anticipated.
Gay missed his first regular season field goal in Tampa Bay’s six-point victory against the Panthers in Week 2, before missing a pair of extra points and sending one of his five field goal attempts wide right as time expired in the Bucs’ 32-31 loss to the Giants the following week. Gay then found his groove and converted nearly every kick, missing a lone field goal attempt in an eventual overtime loss to Seattle, until the Bucs’ Week 12 matchup against Atlanta where he missed three extra points.
Gay hadn’t performed poorly throughout the season, but some of his missed kicks had admittedly come in critical moments.
“I said that the kick against the Giants would not define his career,” Arians said about Gay last November. “He’s a talented, talented kid. He’s overcome it and he’s been very, very consistent. I think he leads the league in kicks over 50 [yards], so yeah, he’s a huge weapon for us.”
Heading into the Bucs’ final three games of the season, Gay was carrying a field goal percentage of 85.7 percent, a mark that would have given him the second-highest single-season conversion rate for a kicker in franchise history. But the rookie then went on to miss five of his final eight field goals, including three crucial kicks in a Week 17 overtime loss to Atlanta.
Those final three games would drop his field goal percentage to 77.1 percent and leave the taste of a squandered division win in the mouths of fans and assuredly the organization.
In comes Fry.
A former walk-on at South Carolina, Fry finished his four-year career with the Gamecocks as the program’s all-time leading scorer with the second-highest career field goal percentage in school history at 75 percent, the second-most field goals made with 66 and 161 of 162 extra points converted.
Moving on from the college level, Fry eventually rejoined his former head coach Steve Spurrier with the Apollos in the Alliance of America Football where he was perfect. Over his eight games in Orlando, Fry nailed all 14 of his field goal attempts, with his longest coming from 44 yards out.
Fry then signed with the Chicago Bears in 2019 for competition’s sake, where he attempted just four kicks in preseason, making both of his extra point attempts with a converted field goal from 43 yards out and a miss from 47. Fry was later released in favor of Chicago’s seventh-round pick, Eddy Pineiro out of Florida.
So far in Bucs camp both kickers have impressed, although Gay struggled on Friday.
On Tuesday both kickers were perfect. On Thursday, Gay went 4/6 with a long of 55 yards, while Fry finished the day 5/6 with a long of around 50 yards, and both kickers nailed their simulated end-of-game kicks. On Friday, Fry bested Gay with a nearly perfect day, going 4/5 while Gay missed three attempts and finished 2/5. Yet again, both kickers converted their end-of-game kick.
Arians added in his post-practice press conference that both kickers have gone over to Raymond James Stadium to kick in an attempt to simulate high-pressure situations as best the team can with no preseason games.