Overshadowed by the Bucs success on the ground and in creating turnovers the last two weeks has been the team’s punt coverage unit.
Taking advantage of punter Bryan Anger’s hang time by racing down the field, Bucs gunners Russell Shepard and Josh Robinson have been a lethal duo for defenders to block down the sideline. A “pick your poison” like combo. Focus on one, and risk giving the other an open field.
Just look at their production.
In the last two weeks the Bucs coverage unit, which ranks sixth in the league in average yards allowed per return (5.9), Shepard and Robinson have helped create two special teams turnovers, both coming at critical moments in the game.
“They’re huge,” Robinson, a UCF grad, said in open locker Wednesday. “Turnovers change the game, so whenever you can get them on special teams, it makes the game a little bit easier.”
In the Bucs big win overCarolina on Monday Night Football earlier this month, with the Bucs leading 3-0 in the second quarter, Shepard practically guided Panther’s cornerback Teddy Williams into Ted Ginn Jr., forcing and recovering a fumble to set the offense up at the 29-yard line. Tampa Bay would miss a chip-shot field goal, but it served as a momentum-shifting play nonetheless.
Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Then last Sunday, leading 17-14 in the third quarter, Josh Robinson, a 4.33 sprinter, raced down the field and positioned himself to fall on a muffed punt at the 35-yard line. Shepard, drawing three defenders on the play, helped free up space. That time Tampa Bay turned the stolen possession into three points.
“We’re getting better each week, and that’s something you look for in any team,” Robinson said of the kick coverage unit. “When you can put on tape each week that you’re improving, it’s a good sign.”
No one has drawn more praise around One Buc Place this week than Shepard. A man who wears many hats for this team, quarterback Jameis Winston on Sunday called him the Bucs “best all-around player,” and on Wednesday coach Dirk Koetter said a “strong case” could be made that he’s at least the most versatile.
Shepard appreciated the kind words and vote of confidence, but when it came to his success on special teams, Shepard was the one deflecting credit and offering up praise for an unsung hero.
“Josh is giving me the opportunity to get up there and sometimes get singled,” Shepard said of Robinson, the team’s fifth cornerback and emerging special teams ace. “Last year, throughout the season, teams started to double-team me, and I was kind of the only guy consistently on our punt team as a gunner. But Josh is doing such an amazing job. They don’t know who to cover.
“The fact that we got two turnovers [in] back-to-back [weeks], that’s extremely rare. We look to build off of that. Josh is doing an amazing job. So is our core special teams unit, as well as our punter. This is probably one of the better, if not the best, punt team I’ve been on since I’ve been in the NFL.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
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