In just three days, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get training camp underway and kicking.
(Haha. Puns….okay, so writers can use training camp, too.)
To get you guys ready and pumped up, we will start today by covering any camp competitions and position battles regarding special teams. It is an overlooked part of the game that most fans take for granted. But make no mistake about it, a good special teams unit is vital when it comes to winning close games.
Last year, the Buccaneers were a hit or miss in the kicking game…literally.
With veteran kicker Rian Lindell having a one-and-done season in pewter and red, he spent a lot of time either hitting the uprights or missing them completely. While he went 23 for 29 on the season, most fans will only remember him for the game against the Detroit Lions, in which his missed field goal attempt almost cost Tampa Bay the game.
At the punter position, the Bucs had Michael Koenen once again. While he got a lot of reps (87, his most as a Buccaneer), Koenen struggled pinning the opposing team inside their own 20 yard line. After a Koenen punt, opponents only started with bad field position 19 times in 2013, which ended up being the second lowest output of his career in that area.
At punt and kick returner, the main man for the job was Eric Page. The undrafted rookie out of Toledo made some waves, and became the only true reliable player at the positions in 2013. While the Buccaneers experimented with other players at that spot, Page prevailed and kept his position through the year.
And now that we have been refreshed on what those positions were like last year, lets take a look ahead to training camp.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Kicker: “Barth Vader” returns.
Before the beginning of last season, Connor Barth tore his Achilles tendon while playing basketball, which placed the fan-favorite kicker on injured reserve. This year, Barth Vader is back and ready to return to his throne as the dark lord of Tampa Bay’s kicking game.
Barth will be challenged in training camp by 23-year-old Patrick Murray. He played his college football at Fordham and spent a little bit of time with the St. Louis Rams. It is unlikely that the kid will push Connor Barth for his job, but it is something that we will keep an eye on in camp. Also, we must all keep our fingers crossed that Barth’s leg stays healthy.
Punter: Is the $19 million leg worth it?
Michael Koenen is currently the only punter on the Buccaneers’ roster, but the team may be best suited to bring in some strong competition for the job. Koenen is one of the highest paid players in the league at his position, and the results have been less than stellar. If Tampa Bay can get someone else to do the job for much cheaper, the might be better off.
Kick/Punt Returner: Time to turn the Page?
While Eric Page turned out to be the reliable option last year, this year might just call for someone who can be a game breaker at any moment. That’s where Jeff Demps comes in. The former olympic track star has a newfound commitment to football and is a guy who, if healthy, can become the Buccaneers’ secret weapon.
Another favorite for the return gig is rookie wide receiver Robert Herron. The former Wyoming Cowboy is also lightning quick, and is the favorite to win the starting job as slot receiver. With the Bucs craving more speed all over the field, Demps or Herron seem to be the biggest threats to Eric Page’s current job. If Page doesn’t win the return job outright, he will find it very difficult to make Tampa Bay’s final roster.