Despite a four-win improvement from 2014, the Buccaneers had some problems in 2015, one being special teams. The offseason saw a lot of changes to the position group, so Tampa Bay must be better in that facet of the game this year.
The Buccaneers had a busy offseason, making a wealth of changes to the entire roster. Some of those changes came on special teams, most notably with the selection of kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the NFL Draft. It was wise of the Bucs to address their special teams situation, as they struggled heavily a year ago.
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Between Kyle Brindza and Connor Barth at the kicking position, Tampa Bay made 72.5 percent of its field goals (29-for-40), which was 30th in the league. The Bucs’ 91.2 percent mark on extra points (31-for-34) was 26th in the NFL. Aguayo enters his first season with the task of curing the team’s kicking issues. More consistency on field goals will obviously lead to more offensive production and, eventually, more wins.
The momentum swing that a missed kick can give the opposition is big in any game, so Aguayo must make the Bucs better this year. And, despite the extra points being longer, they’re very manageable for a kicker in the NFL. While at Florida State, Aguayo never missed a kick from under 40 yards out, so he will have to keep that consistency this year for the Bucs to improve on PAT’s.
In 2015, Tampa Bay made a change at punter from Michael Koenen to Jacob Schum. Neither punter provided much for the Bucs, as the team finished 31st in the league with an average of 41.9 yards per punt. Schum is still on the roster, but 2012 third round pick Bryan Anger signed with the team in the offseason. The former Jacksonville Jaguar averaged 46.3 yards per punt in 2015, with 26 of his 80 punts (32.5 percent) landing inside the 20.
Anger will most likely be the guy for the job when the team leaves training camp for the regular season, but Schum could push him for the job. Either way, Tampa Bay, especially its defense, would benefit greatly from a better punting game in 2016.
Defensively, the Bucs struggled last year. With additions made to the defensive line and the secondary, as well as a change of defensive coordinator, the defense should be better this year.
Something that will help the new additions and coaching change improve the defense is a better special teams performance. Pinning the opposing offense deep in their own territory gives any defense an advantage, but it would especially help a Bucs’ defense that should have a better pass rush with the additions of Robert Ayers and Noah Spence.
The special teams area that has been perennially bad for Tampa Bay is the return game. The Bucs haven’t had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Michael Spurlock did it in 2010. A year ago, the team finished tied for 15th in average yards on kick returns (24.1), but 29th in total kick return yards (506). Additionally, the Bucs finished 17th in total punt return yards (288).
The punt return and kick return jobs are still open as Tampa Bay heads into training camp. Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye and Kenny Bell are among the candidates for the spot, but no matter who wins the job, they will have to produce more in 2016 if the Bucs want to improve their return game.
With the right guy taking kicks and punts, Tampa Bay becomes more dangerous. Getting Jameis Winston and his offense in better field position, especially against some of the strong defenses that the Bucs face this year (Arizona, Los Angeles, Denver, Carolina, Kansas City, Seattle), will be key in staying competitive. In the last two years, Tampa Bay has lost 11 games by seven points or less. Some of those close losses could turn to wins, but the special teams will have to turn the tide in the Bucs’ favor.
It’s fairly simple. It’s easier said than done, but the concept is simple. The Bucs will have to be better on special teams this year. With Aguayo taking the kicking job, Anger presumably assuming punting duties and Humphries, Dye or Bell getting the return job, the special teams unit will have an entirely different look. That different look will have to pay off in all facets of special teams if the Bucs want to win close games and improve upon their six-win total from a year ago.