Bruce Arians Blasts Special Teams

December 1st, 2021

Rookie special teams ace Grant Stuard

The roof was closed at Lucas Oil Stadium but a dark cloud found its way inside.

That cloud was the Buccaneers’ special teams.

The mess started with a 14-yard punt and a 10-yard penalty on the same play of the opening drive, and it ended with allowing a 72-yard kick return with seconds left in the game. (Don’t get Joe started on the special teams decision not to fire a squib kick down the field on that late and critical kickoff).

The Bucs also did nothing in their return game. Indianapolis sent three returnable kickoffs to rookie returner Jaelon Darden, who averaged just 22 yards per return.

Bucco Bruce Arians had an ill tone to his voice talking about his special teams on The Bruce Arians Show last night.

On Bradley Pinion’s muffed punt: “[The Colts] blocked a few kicks this year and I think he got a little concerned and tried to hurry up his operation, didn’t catch it clean, shanked it and gave them great field position. And we had a holding penalty to boot.”

On the Bucs coverage teams: “I thought we were poor. I think they outran us and outhit us. That’s one of the few times on our special teams we got beat. We had one decent return and that was about it. My fault kicking it deep on that last kickoff. We should have squibbed it down there, especially with [the returner] on the back line [of the end zone]. We knew he was coming out. Either pooch [kick] it or put it on the ground. We went ahead and tried to kick it out of the back of the end zone and it didn’t work. … They ran past our 1-on-1 blocks and we got to do a better job.”

On returns this year: Arians didn’t sound enthused and strongly implied there is a learning curve for Jaelon Darden, especially on short kickoffs.

Joe is starting to wonder whether the special teams unit is better than last year’s group, one that the Bucs were heavily focused on upgrading.

(The Arians quotes above are from the Buccaneers Radio Network.)

Enjoy the latest Ira Kaufman Podcast

32 Responses to “Bruce Arians Blasts Special Teams”

  1. Sumosam Says:

    Mickens was doing a good job back there. I knew we would miss him.

  2. Kelley Rose Says:

    I know Keith Armstrong started his coaching career with Ariens at temple and I’ve listen to a few interviews with him he seems very knowledgeable and coaching mostly special teams for over 20 years but his units never seem to be very good they don’t seem horrible but they’re nothing special either you would think they would consider replacing him but I’ve never heard any talk of it the Buccaneers have so many coaches it seems that one of them could move to assist Keith ArmstrongAnd maybe help that unit out or be his replacement eventually if needed

  3. Vinny from Vermont Says:

    Agree with Kelly Rose. Armstrong’s ST has never really reflected any significant improvement…even with the emphasis the team placed on upgrades over the off season.
    The Bucs have been overall a pleasant surprise for the last 16 months, but they continue to mirror one trait that predates the Tom Brady era. Call it the “Hargraves III syndrome”. Once they get enamored with a coach or player
    (O J Howard), they struggle with moving on. I pray Darden does not become part of that trend.

  4. Bucsfanman Says:

    Returners either have ‘IT’ or they don’t. It is not a position where you have time to assess the field. You HAVE to be decisive with your first move and you CANNOT travel any other way other than north and south.
    Watch any “good” returner. It’s north and south until you break free of the ‘wash’.
    Mickens was better at it. Darden is spending too much time deciding.

  5. adam from ny Says:

    darden doesn’t really look like he has much in his repertoire…

    is mickens still in the building?

  6. Scotty in Fat Antonio Says:

    I’m still waiting to see or find ANY Darden special teams highlights from college.

  7. dmatt Says:

    I gave JDarden high remarks when drafted n deemed him a steal of the draft. I haven’t seen the natural ankle breaking moves he displayed in college. I do believe he has potential but potential don’t win games. On most of his returns I notice he runs timid n is reluctant to show his quickness or natural skills that he showcased in college n training camp. I’m hoping he don’t become a bust such as firmer Bucs high hopes 2008 Appalachian St wr/kr Dexter Jackson. I really believe JDarden is still learning the game as he’s elevated to the nfl level. After a year under his belt (honeymoon period) then maybe nature will take its course. As for “OJ”, my bad, “OK”, next player.

  8. Casual Observer Says:

    Good comments by dmatt. I suspect that Darden may be cut one of these days. Hope I am wrong but the team seems to do better by just taking the ball on the 25 rather than run it back on KOs.

  9. Tampaabaybucfan Says:

    We have the worst return blocking in the NFL……it’s not all Darden.

  10. B.D Says:

    can you say Dexter Jackson? (not the good one)

  11. Listnfrmafar Says:

    Tampa, NOT Darden? He looks like he has elastic bands holding him back. I don’t get why Johnson was never back there, I get it now that AB was out. The ST sucked last year and Mickens isn’t the answer. Most teams would of fired their ST coach by now, not BA needs his drinking buddies and the fact Bucs didn’t kick the squib kick is on BA, that’s his decision. He continues to ignore that phase of the game not sure why as we all saw Sunday it could of been a disastrous ending.

  12. Hodad Says:

    We kick it out of the endzone so much we don’t really have to cover. When they returned it, that was the first kick we had to cover in a long time, we looked it. Teams use it as a weapon against us knowing Darden is no threat. Whats concerning about him is the amount of punts he lets hit the ground.

  13. SB~LV Says:

    Stuard is rarely in the screen until the play is over

  14. Ash Says:

    Yeah maybe a squib kick but how about have better kick off coverage you can’t squib kick every time and coverage is a problem every game. They went into the draft saying they were focusing on special teams and its still atrocious. It is not only Darden getting tripped up by blades of grass too often but blocking is terrible and kick off coverage is equally terrible.

  15. PSL Bob Says:

    Hard for me to get down on Pinion for that one poor punt. THe guy is typically solid. All kickers are going to have poor kick once in a while. You just don’t want it to come at a bad time.

  16. BuucccNASTY Says:

    Bring no Ken’s back

  17. Scott Says:

    Did anybody see the Mr. Irrelevant commercial? It was hilarious!

  18. Anonymous Says:

    I’m sorry folks but Darden sucks. I can’t believe the Bucs kept Darden over Mickens. IMO Stuard is the best ST player.

  19. Bobby M. Says:

    IMO….Darden was gifted a position and whenever we have done that it generally bites us in the rear. Scotty Miller seems capable of returning kicks…..he’s out there on special teams coverage, so its not a role that is below him and he’s definitely shown he can handle the big moments. Darden looks like he’s 100% over thinking and the game is going waaaay faster then he’s ready for.

  20. Joe Says:

    I’m sorry folks but Darden sucks. I can’t believe the Bucs kept Darden over Mickens.

    Joe doesn’t get it either but the kid is a rookie. Quite a few good players would not be in the league today if they were based on their play as rookies. Seems Darden tries what he always did in college: Run these big, sweeping returns where he runs backward like 8-10 yards to the opposite side of the field. He’s finding out dudes in the NFL are much quicker than Conference USA.

    Mickens always got production. If Arians is upset with special teams, he helped make it worse trying to push Darden over Mickens.

  21. gotbbucs Says:

    It’s not just this group, historically our special teams are miserable. The franchise only has 4 kick return TD’s EVER!!! An average of one per decade.

    Where’s Michael Spurlock when you need him?

  22. Jmarkbuc Says:

    Bobby M.

    Hard No on Scooter as a return man. He’s great at what he does, but running with the football ain’t one of them.

  23. alton d green Says:

    punt returns and kickoff returns have gotten almost comical. Fair catch when the nearest player is 20 yds from us. I think the other teams should give us 2 points if we return more than 20 yards. Kinda like a “leaner” in horse shoes. hahahhahhaha

  24. Cobraboy Says:

    Darden had his shot and proved he is about a mediocre return guy as there has ever been in the NFL.

    He has neither the top-end speed or the quicks, and we have been told he has the quicks.

    Not impressed at all.

  25. Duane Says:

    Our coverage units are young and inexperienced. That was the cost of bringing 22+ back this season. If we are going to blame them for all the problems this team has when we have TB12 and heavy monies invested in vets on the DLine, we are missing the big picture. They did not give up the touchdown. Special Teams have never been a calling card of this franchise. If the either the offense or defense would have played a complete game, noone would be wasting time worrying about special teams.

  26. PassingThru Says:

    What was Arians expecting? Special Teams were the weak link on the Bucs last season, expecting an improvement without a ST coaching change requires an act of faith.

    Every team has a challenge when it comes to Special Teams: Do you stock it with talented career special teamers, or do you man it with guys who are quality backups on offense/defense but cannot provide as much value as career special teamers. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer, which is why the coaching of Special Teams is so damn important.

    I see poor blocking, poor tackling, and poor angles of pursuit. That’s bad coaching. Even worse, why in Hell didn’t the ST unit use a squib kick on that last kick during the Indy game? Even in the game thread I was confused, ST used the wrong kick.

  27. Jmarkbuc Says:


    George Stewart and Rich Bisaccia had excellent ST units here.

  28. Posey99 Says:

    Antonio brown needs to be returning kicks for us. He was great when he did it, i don’t want to hear about potential injuries when they can happen at any time, field position and ball security are so important. Let him catch a few

  29. Listnfrmafar Says:

    Duane, ST are very important, one screw up can instantly change the game. NO on AB, he is to valuable as a receiver. Johnson or maybe Gio since he isn’t getting used anyway. I’d say Rojo but that has blotched catch written all over it. How about Vaughn? Bucs have options. It doesn’t have to be the fastest guy.

  30. Buc4evr Says:

    Didn’t J’ville get Mickens off of the practice squad? Not sure what the Bucs saw in Darden. He may be fast be he has no vision and seems afraid to take a hit.

  31. TampabayDJ82 Says:

    Jmarkbuc- AGREED 💯 !! And the Bucs did try using Scotty “to small” Miller on punt returns either last year or the previous. And he was told to FAIR CATCH ALL OF THEM because he would get hit and fumble Everytime .. And yes we had GREAT ST back in the Rich Bisaccia day’s . I don’t remember George Stewart , he must have been before I was old enough to know who the ST coaches were.

  32. DavidBigBucsFan99 Says:

    I don’t think the guys were prepared when their returner took that ball so deep. They were probably expecting him to kneel or let it pass. By the time they realized it and their brains caught up with their eyes he was already running past them at the 35. That shows you how much they wanted it. Darden would’ve fell down at the 10.

    Joe Marciano was another good ST coach. It sucked when he then Rich Bisaccia left. STs never been the same. Thought Rich left because he hated Gruben but guess them hooking back up in Las Vegas proved that wrong.