Special Attention

July 16th, 2018


We’ve been focused for much of the offseason on bulking up the trenches and wondering whether rookie Ronald Jones can inject some life into a listless ground attack.

But there’s another aspect of Tampa Bay’s play that requires an immediate boost.

It’s a hidden part of the game that demands keen coaching and willing role players.

Let’s take a close look at these shaky special teams.

Rick Gosselin already has. Based in Dallas, Gosselin has reported on the NFL for more than 40 years and his annual special-teams rankings are generally considered definitive.

According to Gosselin’s chart, Tampa Bay’s special teams ranked 21st as he evaluated performance in 22 categories. Sitting at No. 1 overall are the Rams, who used stellar special-teams play as a springboard to an 11-5 record and an NFC West title.

In other words, special teams matter. They can win you a game or two — or lose you a game or two.

Looking back over Tampa Bay’s lost decade, it becomes clear that all aspects of special teams play need a boost. Whether it’s a slew of missed field goals or losing the battle for field position, the Bucs have been operating at a disadvantage.

Let’s start with the kicking game, shall we?

Maddening Math

In the past three years, the Bucs have converted only 76-of-105 FG tries, a dismal 72 percent success rate. Thank you Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk.

In that same span, Buc opponents made 84-of-100 FG attempts. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to place that conversion rate at 84 percent.

Yes, opponents tried five less field goals and made eight more. So here comes Chandler Catanzaro to try to stabilize a position that has haunted the Bucs since Matt Bryant departed in 2009.

“Chandler has two really good years and one that wasn’t as good,” says special teams coach Nate Kaczor. “So, a guy that’s done it as long as he has, he’s got enough experience where he’s not what you’d say green, but he’s not old either. So, I think he’s in the prime of his career. He’s been a consistent field goal kicker.

“He’s gotten better at his kickoffs and his kickoffs are definitely good enough and as you know, we like to have both good kickoffs and field goals. You want it all and you also know that we’ve had a few kickers here. too.”

While Bryan Anger remains a solid punter, his play fell off last season as he lost more than 3 yards per net punt from his 2016 form. And instead of dropping 37 punts inside the 20, Anger accomplished that feat only 24 times last year.

In terms of net punting average, the Bucs have outperformed their opponents only once (2016) in the past six years.

How about taking a punt or a kickoff to the house? Not likely.

The last time a Buc scored a touchdown off a punt return, Micheal Spurlock was racing 77 yards at New Orleans in 2009. In case you were wondering, kickoff returns aren’t any better.

Glazers Watching

In the past eight years, the Bucs have scored only once on a kickoff return (Mr. Spurlock again, 2010) while being burned four times. Tampa Bay was torched for a kickoff return score in each of the final two games last season.

“Probably the most frustrating about that is we were having good success with that unit and at the end of the year without being too specific, there were some dynamics that changed with personnel,” Kaczor said. “A lot of it was health related and obviously hang time at times. It was never really one thing, but how it all works together, some of that got breached a little bit. I’ve got to get them doing it exactly right.”

Even when the Bucs tried to add a dynamic return man through the draft (Kaelin Clay in 2015), they ended up releasing him one week into his rookie season. And yes, this is the same Kaelin Clay who has gone on to return two punts for touchdowns in the NFL.

It’s easy to downplay the importance of special teams, but it’s an area the Bucs need to improve dramatically this fall. They don’t have a choice because Mr. Gosselin will be watching very closely.

So will the Glazers.

Now in his 40th year covering the NFL , Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in the Tampa Bay area. He scored a full-time seat at JoeBucsFan.com world headquarters in July of 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays at 5 p.m. during football season. Also a TV start, see Ira now on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360 (aka BayNews 9). Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday NFL show and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

16 Responses to “Special Attention”

  1. Bucsfanman Says:

    All phases/aspects of the game are relevant. 5-11 says you failed. Maybe Catanzaro can help with that, maybe we can find a return guy for once too.
    If the Bucs are going to be successful it will take all three phases to do so (no duh! right?).

  2. Fire the glazers Says:

    I worry that people will forget, if we start winning, about some transgressions by our QB.
    I don’t want to crucify a guy for making mistakes…
    I do think that a guy shouldn’t just get punished for disgusting behavioral patterns, but should also show signs of growth and humility to earn back the trust of those spending their money to ensure the glazers babies have their silver spoons and their golden toilets…

  3. DB55 Says:

    Didn’t Reedy return a kick for the pats in the POs?

    Maybe Jameis should go out there and return kicks or kick fg.

    Hey Licht, Janikowski signed a 1 yr deal for 1.1 million. Ijs.

  4. Destinjohnny Says:


  5. Casey Morgan Says:


  6. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Draft picks should improve special teams,
    Would like to see Justin Watson or Jordan Whitehead given a chance to return kicks

  7. Jim Says:

    “Weapons for Winston”…how soon we forget.

  8. ndog Says:

    You mean we didn’t lose 11 games last year all do to Jameis like all the haters want to say. But don’t worry I am sure Roy T will be on here soon enough to fine a way to make special teams Jameis fault as well. Cause as we all know every team wins and loses 100% because the QB, right Roy T?

  9. BucNole Says:

    Perhaps Nate Kaczor should be added to the hotseat list.
    And yes – letting Clay go was a mistake.
    I still go back to winning culture – something this team (and its owners) cant seem to build.

  10. Not there yet Says:

    Yes sure people focus on field goals and kick returns but I’m still having flashbacks of a ball being kicked directly to Alvin kimara, him catching hesitating and thinking about whether to return it or not, then finally after thinking it over taking it to the house. But hey Dirk is back because they fought hard for him. Fighting hard just isn’t enough if you don’t know how to fight, you’ll still get beat in the end.

  11. 813bucboi Says:

    im surprised no one has blamed lovie for the ST woes……lol…


  12. Bucsfanman Says:

    ^^^It’s ALL Lovie’s fault! LOL!

  13. Defense Rules Says:

    Poor Special Teams play is almost totally a COACHING PROBLEM IMO. The ST coach. Should have his pick of the 53-man roster and put only the best players out there. Any kicker who doesn’t get at least 75-80% touchbacks on his kickoffs should be replaced. Any punter who can’t get outstanding distance AND hang time should be replaced. STs isn’t rocket science. #21 in the NFL for special teams is totally unacceptable.

  14. rrsrq Says:

    I will say it again like a broken record, two coaches should’ve been run, if you gonna run Jay Hayes DL coach, you should’ve run Nate Kaczor, FG kicking and Kicking coverage sub par. Kick and punt return not even worth commenting on. We blamed Swaggy for the NC game, but I believe it was the ST’s that gave up 6 and what was the score, then the following week we give up another to the Saints. Punting just average when years before we were flipping the field. IJS, seems like loyalty can be misplaced, when you know for sure ST’s cost you two games and maybe more.

  15. William Walls Says:

    Top-notch special teams play is a natural by-product of roster depth. When you have talent all the way down to your 53rd man, you have better athletes on your special teams units. That gives your ST coach more options and a better-performing unit.

  16. Trench War Says:

    Put Desean Jackson and his big paycheck at return duty. Let these well paid studs multi task like they did 20 years ago. There used to be a day when teams used their number one’s to contribute on special teams, now they try to fill ST positions with only the backups. Backups are just that, backups.