FAB 3. 5 Critical Camp Questions – Bucs Special Teams

PewterReport.com’s 20 Critical Camp Questions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continues with a look at special teams. Here are five big questions as the start of Tampa Bay’s 2018 training camp is just days away.


1. Is there truly a competition at kicker?
Yes. The odds-on favorite for winning the job is veteran Chandler Catanzaro, but he’ll get a legitimate battle from undrafted free agent Trevor Moore. The 27-year old Catanzaro, who is entering his fifth season in the league, is the guy the Bucs want to win the job. They signed him to a three-year deal worth $9.75 million, including $3.75 million in guaranteed money. With three years worth of experience in Arizona and a year’s worth of experience with the New York Jets last season, investing in a young, veteran kicker is ideal for the Bucs, who desperately need stability at the position.

Bucs K Chandler Catanzaro - Photo by Zach Beeker
Bucs K Chandler Catanzaro – Photo by Zach Beeker

Catanzaro has a big, strong leg to go along with 84.4 percent career accuracy. He connected on 87.9 percent of his field goals as a rookie in 2014 and then hit 90.3 percent the following year. After a down season in 2016 in which he made just 75 percent of his field goals, Catanzaro rebounded with the Jets last year, making 83.3 percent of his kicks. He has an impressive 7-of-13 record on kicks 50 yards or longer with a career-high of 60 yards. The Bucs struggled to make long field goals last year with Patrick Murray and Nick Folk handling the kicking duties.

While Catanzaro is the favorite, it should be noted that Folk was the favorite to beat out Roberto Aguayo last summer, which happened, only to see Folk falter by October and be replaced by Murray. Moore has a strong leg, but doesn’t have the range Catanzaro does. He is accurate though, evidenced by his 90.9 percent connection rate during his senior year at North Texas.

Aside from both kickers faltering in August, the Bucs’ worst nightmare may be Moore outdueling Catanzaro in training camp and the preseason and having to decide whether to keep the veteran over the rookie, or whether to roll the dice and go with an unproven kicker and flush $3.75 million down the drain. Bucs general manager Jason Licht kept Murray, an undrafted free agent in 2014, over the established veteran Connor Barth that year and that was a big surprise. Could Moore pull off a similar feat this year? Don’t bet on it, but don’t rule it out, either.

2. What’s the kicker’s range?
Not only will training camp and the preseason decide whether the Bucs go with veteran Chandler Catanzaro or rookie Trevor Moore as the team’s kicker, Tampa Bay will also use the month of August to determine what range the winner of that training camp battle is. That’s very important in a league that often has games decided by three points or less.

Patrick Murray, who took over kicking duties from Nick Folk last year in October, was the more accurate of the two, connecting on 82.6 percent of his kicks, but didn’t offer much in the way of leg strength when it came to kickoffs or long field goals. Murray was just 2-of-5 on field goals 50 yards or longer, and his longest field goal of the year was just 50 yards. Folk was just 1-of-2 on deep kicks, connecting on a 50-yard field goal before being shown the door.

Catanzaro has a big leg and is 7-of-13 on kicks from 50 yards or more. His career long is 60 yards, and he made a 57-yard field goal last year while with the Jets. Moore’s leg is not as strong and he only attempted two kicks 50 yards or longer in his four-year Mean Green career, connecting on one 51-yarder. Was that just a product of North Texas not wanting to attempt long field goals or a sign that Moore simply can’t make them?

The Bucs typically have their kickers and punters go over to Raymond James Stadium during training camp to practice kicking where the team will play half its games this year. That’s a wise move for special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor, who will be sure to let head coach Dirk Koetter what the range of each kicker is at Ray-Jay. That, combined with preseason performance, will go a long way in determining who winds up as Tampa Bay’s kicker. If Moore can prove he’s not another Murray with limited range it will help his chances as he competes with Catanzaro.

3. Will punter Bryan Anger return to form?
Yes. When Anger rewarded the Bucs’ confidence in him when the team signed him as a free agent in 2016, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg rewarded Anger with a five-year contract extension worth $17 million. Unfortunately, his numbers dipped last year, especially the number of punts downed inside the 20-yard line, as well as his net average.

Anger averaged 44 yards per punt with just a 39.5-yard net. He had just five touchbacks, which is good, but managed to down only 24 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line. Anger had one punt blocked for a touchdown at New Orleans, but that wasn’t his fault as linebacker Devante Bond whiffed on his block.

The year prior, Anger averaged 45.9 yards per punt with five touchbacks and a career-high 37 punts downed inside the 20, which was 13 more than last year, along with a net average of 42.7. That’s significant as opponents starting inside their own 20 is a huge help to the Bucs defense.

Bucs CBs Ryan Smith (29) and Josh Robinson (26) – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Bucs CBs Ryan Smith (29) and Josh Robinson (26) – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

Part of the reason why Anger struggled with punts inside the 20 was because Tampa Bay’s two special teams aces – Josh Robinson and Ryan Smith – missed some time on special teams last year. Robinson, the Bucs’ special teams captain, missed five games due to injury, while Smith had to start 10 games at cornerback. Both Robinson and Smith are Tampa Bay’s top gunners on the punt team.

As long as Robinson stays healthy he will available to down punts inside the 20, and with the influx of young talent at cornerback this offseason with the drafting of Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, it’s more likely that Smith returns to the role of reserve cornerback and special teams star. Downing punts inside the 20-yard line is a knack that only a few gunners around the league have, and both Smith and Robinson have proven themselves in this area. Their return to special teams will help Anger bounce back and have a better year in 2018.

4. Will the Bucs have better kickoff coverage in 2018?
Hopefully. The Buccaneers did a tremendous job covering punts last year, allowing less than six yards per return, although Bryan Anger’s net average of only 39.5 yards had something to do with that. It’s easier to cover shorter punts. Where the Bucs really struggled was in kickoff coverage.

In a day and age where more kickoffs wind up being touchbacks that allow teams to start at the 25-yard line, the Bucs allowed two returns for touchdowns last year, which was the most in the NFL. Just how bad of a stat is that? Consider that the NFL only had seven touchdowns on kick returns last year – and the Bucs coverage units accounted for two of those, while allowing opponents to average 24.6 yards per return, which was the third-highest average in the league.

Both of those kick returns occurred in the final two weeks of the season when injuries affected the Bucs special teams. When roster attrition strikes, it hits special teams the hardest because a team’s top reserves are core special teams players. When those backups have to step in as starters, special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor has to get newly signed players off the street ready to go cover kicks and punts with only a few days of practice time.

Kaczor can’t control who gets injured, but when it comes to Tampa Bay forming its 53-man roster in September, the last three or four players that make the team usually do so by excelling on special teams during training camp and the preseason. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter will have to choose the last three or four players carefully and weigh keeping top special teams performers who may lack a high ceiling on offense or defense in favor of developmental players that show promise on offense or defense that may not excel on special teams.

5. Will the Bucs find significant upgrades for their return game?
Yes. Tampa Bay’s kick return game last year ranked 17th in the NFL, averaging 21.6 yards per return. The problem is that the Bucs only had nine returns of 20 yards or more, which was tied for last in the league with Philadelphia. Tampa Bay’s longest kick return was 50 yards by Bernard Reedy in 2017. Reedy also led the Bucs as a punt returner. Tampa Bay was tied for sixth in the league with a 9.6-yard punt return average. Before his release in November, Reedy had a 44-yard return versus the Jets, but it was Tampa Bay’s only punt return to be returned for more than 20 yards last season, which ranked second-to-last in the NFL in this category.

Bucs RB Shaun Wilson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RB Shaun Wilson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Reedy returns to try to win the Bucs’ return specialist job again during training camp and he’ll have plenty of competition. Adam Humphries has experience returning punts, but lacks speed and dynamic playmaking ability. He’s a safe bet to get nine yards.

Keep an eye on undrafted rookie free agent running back Shaun Wilson. He could emerge as someone who can handle kick returns or punt returns – perhaps both. Wilson has generated a lot of buzz this offseason as a third-down back in Dirk Koetter’s offense, but if he’s going to stick on the roster as the team’s fourth-string running back behind Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones II and Charles Sims, he’ll have to prove his worth on special teams and beat out Jacquizz Rodgers, who is also in the running for kick return duties.

Whether it’s Reedy, Wilson or another sleeper candidate, the Bucs’ return game just might have more punch in the playmaking department. After two years of lackluster returns under special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor he’ll need to do a better job finding a player with more speed and make-you-miss capability. The guess here is that Wilson becomes that guy – at least as a kick returner.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

16 COMMENTS

  1. If Dirk has any since at all he will make Fitz the starter until after the 4 th game and give him all reps with first string going into season
    once 4th game is over and by week give Jamies the reps with starting O during the by week.
    If they plan on plying him

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  2. Hey Scott, overall a really good Fab 5, but I think you missed some questions. In my mind, the questions isn’t about the talent on the team (although you covered many good areas of concern), my questions concern the ability of the coaching staff. You touched on Mike Smith and Nick Kozar but I have questions about whether Todd Monken will actually call plays and if so, will he do a better job than Dirk, if not, what kind of impact (if any) can we see out of him. My next concern George Warhop, what is he going to do different this year? Every year we hear about the weakness of the run blocking or pass blocking but honestly, it never really seems to improve. Yes, you can only coach the talent that you have, but I see teams like Atlanta and Carolina with suspect offensive lines always seeming to improve as the season goes on. My other coach on the hot seat is Jon Hoke, again last season’s defensive backfield was abysmal, was that coaching or was it a lack of talent and experience? We have less experience this year, perhaps more talent … what is his plan to coach it up? My final question is about the coach I’m most excited about, Brenson Buckner. Last season the defensive line looked soft and confused, what is coach Buck going to do to improve that? I know Smith will call the defense, but Buck is going to control that line. I yearn for the days of having Rod Maranelli (sp) coaching the defensive line and I think/hope Buckner is up to the challenge of making Buc fans proud of our defensive line again.

    Those are the questions *I* want answered. Hopefully, you can address them in a future Fab 5.

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    • +1

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  3. TBH, this felt like a very hometown perspective.

    If you asked any other fan base what they thought of Justin Evans, the reply would almost assuredly be “who?”. Probably a little early to be calling for the probowl…I can’t get the image out of my mind of Kelvin Benjamin making him fall down in the endzone before catching the easy TD. Hope he’ll come along but maybe a little ahead of ourselves.

    Again, ask any other fan base for the trade value of Will Clarke and Gohlston….crickets.

    Reedy as our answer (which we’ve been waiting for since 1976, with the exception of one season from Clifton Smith) in the return game???????

    IDK, just seems overly rosy to me.

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    • Reedy is about 150 times better in the return game as Humphries. Yes, Hump was consistent, caught the ball well and made good decisions. But, anyone who is happy with a 4-9 yard possible return after that catch is crazy. What was Hump’s longest return of the year? Sorry, but I have never liked Hump back there at all, I was so mad when we got rid of Reedy and I knew that Hump would then be the returner. I’m not saying it should be Reedy, give Wilson and some others a chance, but we ABSOLUTELY need to replace Humphries in the return game. He is way too slow and not shifty enough. He gets tackled way too easily.

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      • +1

        Humphries is a solid slot guy. Let’s keep him there.

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      • +1, give both Wilsons (Shaun and Bobo) a shot at it along with Reedy.

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        • and don’t forget Watson

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    • Your points are mostly valid. But, you don’t ask a fan base about trade value of a player. You ask your pro scouts. Clarke, won’t get much for that guy, but Gholston, he would maby return a 3rd rounder due to his ability against the run. But, again, that’s a part of a fan base perspective

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  4. Scott, really not much news here; most of it is things we have heard before in previous Pewter Report articles. I think we’re all ready for some football.

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  5. Hey Scott, nice job setting the stage for training camp, and to quote Horse, “.. we’re all ready for some football”!

    I want to believe we’ve upgraded our talent level. We lost a couple games at the margins last year, but overall we didn’t have the talent. Licht tried to address the soft spot this offseason, but the guys still have to produce.

    At this point, I think 8-8 is where we are. Will be a fun six weeks.

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  6. Scott
    Free agent strong safety ? Eric Reid?

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    • +1, the talent is worth the possible backlash which shouldn’t be much at this point. Plus, being a free agent so long probably brought down his price tag quite a bit.

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  7. Why is how QB reps are being split up such a big question? Fitzpatrick is the guy for first 3 games so he will get the majority of snaps. Don’t see how giving more snaps to Winston would make sense and help us in those 3 games and don’t see how taking more reps would help Winston when he will be out of practice etc for like a month before returning.

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  8. EastEndBoy, it is also interesting how your attitude skewers your perspective. To be totally honest with you, I have no recollection of the play you mentioned regarrding Evans. I do however remember his intercepting the GOAT for his first NFL INT and also snatching another in the end zone against the Dolphins. I wonder why those escaped your memory.
    And if you think Golston would command a #3 pic. It is you who is a homer. DE’s who can’t sack the QB are a low priority in this league

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    • @drdneast – I’ll forgive your errant comment, as I forgive Evans for his endzone errors and look forward to continued progression on his way to an admirable (though perhaps not probowl) career. Have a quick look back and you’ll read my comment as “Gohlston has no significant trade value”….the comment about him being worth a “3rd round pick” (directly in opposition to what I wrote) was the completely legitimate opinion of another PR poster, but not (clearly) my opinion….that was the point of what I wrote.

      As for Evans being on his way to the probowl because he intercepted Brady 1 time, I guess by the logic Xavien Howard is on his way to HoF….(look it up).

      Finally, as I said above, I am not anti-Evans, I just consider that touting him as a probowler at this point is a little ahead of ourselves.

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