FAB 3. Bucs Finally Have a Kicker They Are Confident In
The writing was on the wall for kicker Roberto Aguayo on March 18 when Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht signed veteran Nick Folk, who had spent the last seven years with the New York Jets.
Aguayo, the kicker Licht traded up to draft in the second round in 2016 and caught a lot of flak for, was the league’s worst kicker as a rookie, connecting on just 73 percent of his field goals and missing a couple of extra points, too. The arrival of Folk, who is a career 81.3 percent kicker, meant that Aguayo clearly had to beat out the veteran, who was cut by the Jets after connecting on 87.1 percent of his kicks. If the kicking competition wound up being close, Licht and Koetter were going to go with the guy with experience.
When Aguayo’s first extra point attempt of the preseason clanked off the upright in Cincinnati and he missed a 47-yarder Koetter and Licht had seen enough, especially after Folk nailed his lone kick, a 45-yarder. Aguayo was gone the next day, with HBO’s Hard Knocks capturing the exchange by Koetter and Licht prior to Aguayo’s arrival to hear about his dismissal.
Koetter said that the Bucs needed to rally around a kicker and that kicker needed to be Folk, the veteran.
“It’s funny, but Folk is the one, if he has a couple misses out here in practice, when you get to a game, I have confidence he’s going to make it, just because of the way he’s wired,” Licht said. “Whereas it’s the opposite with Roberto. He can make 20 of his last 20 kicks and then go to a game and nobody’s confident he’s going to make it — not even an extra point.
“It’s just such a bigger mistake to keep holding on to him.”
And like that, Aguayo was gone. Yet in Folk’s first game as Tampa Bay’s anointed kicker he had a low extra point blocked, and missed a 47-yard field goal wide right from the left hash – just like Aguayo did a week earlier.
Still, Folk has the team’s confidence, and the Bucs hope the kicking carousel they have been on with five kickers – Rian Lindell, Connor Barth, Patrick Murray, Kyle Brindza and Aguayo – in the past five years comes to an end.
“Nick has been doing for it a while, and he’s been a kicker in this league for a while,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “I don’t think anybody in this organization lacks confidence in him or that he’s not going to do it for us on Sundays. Even if he misses a couple in practice, you still have that confidence in him that when the lights are on, he’ll make it. I think his background speaks for itself. I think everybody has confidence in Nick.”
On Tuesday, Folk hit 6-of-7 field goals with his miss coming on a bad snap from Garrison Sanborn. Folk hit all four attempts on the skinny field goals including one from beyond 50 yards. On Thursday, the final day of training camp, Folk connected on 4-of-5 field goals from the skinny goal posts, and his lone miss would have been good on a regular goal post. Folk’s last kick was from 55 yards.
“We definitely have confidence in him,” Bucs left guard Kevin Pamphile said. “You have to have confidence in whoever is back there. We have to block up front for him and we have to trust that he’s going to make them all. If he misses one, we still have confidence in Nick to make the next one.”
The Bucs would like to see Folk have a perfect outing on Saturday when Cleveland comes to town for the preseason home opener. Tampa Bay is the only team not to connect on an extra point in the preseason, going 0-for-2. The Bucs are also the only team that has missed a PAT.
“You’ve got to have a short-term memory as a kicker, just like a DB,” said Bucs special teams gunner Ryan Smith. “You’ve go to the next play. It’s easier said than done, but you have to have that mentality. He’s going to do great, though.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Nick. You have to keep rooting your kicker on. I think every time Nick is back there he’ll make it.”
With an emphasis on scoring more points this season offensively to help Tampa Bay make a playoff push, the Bucs don’t want to see Folk have to attempt too many field goals.
“I only want him kicking extra points – all day,” Pamphile said. “As an offense all we want to do is score touchdowns and have Nick kick the extra points.”