There are plenty of areas that the Buccaneers can improve on heading into 2017. One of those areas is special teams. The kicking competition is one thing, but the team also needs an answer in the kick return game.
The Buccaneers have never been a team known for kick return prowess. Their first kickoff return for a touchdown didn’t even come until 2007, the team’s 32nd season. Micheal Spurlock‘s big moment in Tampa Bay’s 37-3 win over Atlanta will forever be remembered, but it certainly wasn’t the franchise’s big turnaround as far as the return game goes. To this day, the Bucs are still struggling to find any success in that aspect of the game.
Heading into the 2017 season, that needs to change. Tampa Bay is set to challenge for the division title for the first time in quite a while. That makes the smaller things even more crucial. In any given game, the field position battle can determine the outcome. With little room for error on a tough schedule, the Bucs absolutely need to win those battles. Part of that can be helped if they find an answer at the kick return position.
A variety of players are rotating and getting looks so far in training camp. Donteea Dye, Josh Huff and rookie Bobo Wilson received some early reps, while Ryan Smith and second-round pick Justin Evans got some looks on Wednesday. Huff came in last year as a potential upgrade, but a few costly mistakes set him back a bit. Wilson had experience returning kicks at Florida State, while Evans had his own share of reps at Texas A&M. Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times pointed out an interesting stat back when the Bucs drafted Evans:
That stat just hints at Tampa Bay’s lack of success in the return game. The Bucs were dead last in the entire NFL when it came to total kick return yards and average yards per return. Someone has to step up during camp and into the season. Everyone is expecting the offensive unit to be impressive this year. But, just think about how much more effective it can be if it’s not starting a drive at its own 15-yard line.
Each of the team’s options possesses great speed. Of the aforementioned players, the slowest 40-yard dash time is 4.57 seconds. That is, well, not slow. However, they’ll have to show a healthy mix of explosiveness and vision in order to win the job and keep it. Will the Bucs completely fall apart if they can’t find a way to improve their return unit? Not necessarily, but having a consistent unit can take a lot of pressure off the rest of the team.