FAB 4. Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions: Special Teams
Our Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions wraps up with a quick look at Tampa Bay’s special teams. Let me know what you think of these 20 Critical Camp Questions below in the article commenting. Have any additional questions you would like me to answer? Ask them in the article comments section and I’ll get to them over the weekend.
19. Will Gay Master The South End Zone At Ray-Jay?
That’s the plan. During his rookie season, kicker Matt Gay had connected on 84 percent of his field goals heading into the Week 17 season finale at home against Atlanta. Gay missed all three field goal attempts against the Falcons in the 28-22 loss, and all three were in the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium. As a result, Gay ended up hitting 77.1 percent of his field goals in 2019, including 10 games where he was perfect.
That south end zone has posed problems for Gay and other kickers due to the nature of the swirling winds in the part of the open air stadium. Gay had a notable 34-yard miss against the New York Giants in Week 4 that would have been the game-winner. That was Gay’s lone miss in that game, as he nailed 4-of-5 field goal attempts (80 percent) against the Giants.
After the 2019 season concluded, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that Gay would spend plenty of time at Ray-Jay practicing kicking in the south end zone. Obviously the COVID-19 coronavirus negated those plans as the entire NFL offseason was cancelled. So I asked Arians on this week’s Zoom conference call how much work Gay would get at the stadium during training camp.
“At least two or three times a week,” Arians said. “We really don’t need lines over there; we just need a goal post. When it’s available, he will be there.”
Although the Bucs signed first-year kicker Elliot Fry as competition for Gay in training camp, Arians still has confidence in last year’s fifth-round pick.
“Yeah, I think he learned a lot of things about life off the field in the NFL and how it affects on-field performance,” Arians said. “Up [through] November he was having a heck of a year and then he had a bad December. We’ll find out if it was a rookie wall or if it’s a problem. If it’s a problem, we’ll fix it.”
What will help Gay is that his special teams battery, which consists of long snapper Zach Triner and holder Bradley Pinion, returns intact in 2020 so there will be continuity for the second-year kicker. Pinion, who serves as the team’s punter, will also continue to handle kick off duties, which will allow Gay to focus solely on field goals and extra points.
“I thought Bradley was an outstanding punter and great kickoff guy,” Arians said. “Last year he set a record for touchbacks, and our coverage units got better and better.”
20. Who Will Emerge As The Bucs’ Return Specialist?
Rookie Raymond Calais will beat out veteran T.J. Logan for the return duties, but it will be a close battle in camp. Logan emerged as the Bucs’ punt and kickoff returner last year, averaging a respectable 9.5 yards per punt return and 20.8 yards per kickoff return. He also saw a few snaps on offense, catching two passes for 13 yards, and rushing three times for 10 yards.
Tampa Bay wanted to give Logan some competition and drafted Calais, a multi-purpose weapon out of Louisiana-Lafayette, in the seventh round. The diminutive Calais, who is 5-foot-8, 188 pounds, ran a 4.42 at the NFL Scouting Combine. That speed, plus his 25.2-yard kick return average is what attracted the Bucs’ attention. Calais returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in addition to rushing for 1,845 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per carry, and catching 17 passes for 145 yards and one TD in his Ragin’ Cajuns career.
“He’s one of those guys – he runs 4.33 and he’s a running back/receiver/kick returner – just one of those guys I love to play with,” Arians said. “Raymond is a very smaller version, but much faster version of David Johnson. He’s a heck of a little running back. I wouldn’t say he’s Tarik Cohen, but he’s kind of that style guy, that joystick type guy that can go out and play wide receiver and be a mismatch. We also have T.J. Logan, who got hurt last year. They’ll have a heck of a battle.”
Arians has been fond of Logan since his days in Arizona in 2018, and he can’t be counted out of the battle. The fact that he’s a veteran might give him an advantage since there won’t be any preseason games for Calais to acclimate himself to fielding punts and kickoffs at the NFL level.
“T.J. Logan was making great progress until he broke his thumb last year as a returner,” Arians said. “I thought he did a great job.”
What concerns Arians and Bucs special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong the most is not having a preseason to work out some of the kinks in the kicking game and on special teams. Without any offseason OTAs or mini-camps, the Bucs will have very limited time to work on special teams during training camp as they will need to spend the majority of reps on offensive and defensive work instead.
“That’s one of the areas I’m really concerned with missing practice because of the few reps you’re gonna get,” Arians said. “And having to open up with a team as good as the Saints are on special teams because that can decide the outcome of the game. … As injuries occur it affects your special teams more than anything, but I think our return game can get better.
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