The Buccaneers kickoff return unit got caught with its pants down when Washington successfully executed its third-quarter onside kick and head coach Lovie Smith said as much Monday afternoon.
“We didn’t line up properly on that play,” Smith said. “I’ll just go on that. Didn’t execute it the right way. That starts with us as coaches. We didn’t have the guys lined up in the right position on that play. Kind of simple as that.”
Tampa Bay’s front five on its return unit were lined up in a typical formation for a team expecting a normal kickoff. D.J. Swearinger and Jude Adjei-Barimah were at the 50 on the edges, Bruce Carter and Jeremiah George were a yard back on the Bucs 49 on the hash marks and Danny Lansanah and Howard Jones were back at the Bucs 45.
While NFL rules dictate that return team players can line up as close as 10 yards away from the spot of a kickoff, meaning they can be at the opposing team’s 45, most only press up when they’re expecting an onside kick. Being back a few more yards allows them to run back and get in position to set up their blocking scheme on the return.
But as displayed yesterday, teams can go for unconventional onside kicks whenever they please and front-line special teams players must be cognizant of that at all times. The Bucs didn’t appear to be, were slow to react to Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins’ well-struck attempt and got burned.
Hopkins went for the gap between Carter and Adjei-Barimah where Lansanah was 20 yards off. By the time the first Redskins player reached the ball, the closest Buc, Adjei-Barimah, was still three yards away.
Smith wouldn’t go into detail Monday, but said the Bucs were out of position. “We didn’t have the guys lined up right. I don’t know what else to tell you. There’s a strategy behind it. You can look at it and see we weren’t lined up right on that play.”