Younger And Faster, Yes. But Better?

July 9th, 2023

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Jason Licht keeps trying, to no avail.

Licht enters every draft looking to bolster Tampa Bay’s shaky special teams. He selects linebackers, defensive backs, runners and receivers to help the coverage and return units. He chooses kickers and punters to split the uprights or gain favorable field position.

Nothing has worked.

Devon Thompkins will get another shot to be Tampa Bay’s return man.

In the annual metrics tabulated by one of pro football’s most respected reporters, the Bucs have been a special teams disaster in the past decade. They’ve gone through five head coaches in that span and special teams remain an area of primary concern. As Keith Armstrong enters his fifth season overseeing the group, the Bucs need more juice from a unit that often plays a critical role in determining outcomes.

Leave it to Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin to compile an annual review of NFL special teams across 22 kicking-game categories. This is the same savvy analyst whose draft prospect ratings were routinely sought by NFL GMs and head coaches, including Bill Belichick.

When Gosselin, who is based in Dallas, has something to say, it’s worth a listen. He’s had plenty to say about Buc special teams over the years and the plaudits aren’t exactly falling from his tongue.

Here’s how the Bucs have fared in the Gosselin rating system:

Season         Ranking

2022              30th
2021              29th
2020     tied for 22nd
2019              32nd
2018              28th
2017              21st
2016              12th
2015              26th
2014              24th
2013              22nd

There you have it, a decade of despair when it comes to kicking, punting, returns and coverage. The issues precede Armstrong’s arrival — but he hasn’t changed the narrative since replacing Nate Kaczor in 2019, when Bruce Arians dismantled Dirk Koetter’s coaching staff.

Armstrong has also remained on board through the transition from Arians to Todd Bowles. He and Bowles are tight, going back to their playing days under Arians at Temple.

How’s this for irony?

Tampa Bay’s best showing on special teams in the past decade came in Koetter’s first season on the sidelines. And yes, 2016 was the year of Roberto Aguayo. We know how that turned out, but Buc opponents averaged only 5.3 yards per punt return while Bryan Anger was stellar, dropping 37 of 70 punts inside the 20.

Special teams chief Keith Armstrong.

A few years back, Licht said a good part of his draft strategy was focused on improving special teams. It didn’t happen, but perhaps rookies YaYa Diaby, SirVocea Dennis, Josh Hayes and Trey Palmer can make an impact.

“We got younger, we got faster,” Armstrong says of the newcomers. “We’ve got a good collection of guys that are physical.”

Veteran kicker Chase McLaughlin offers a bigger leg than Ryan Succop and punter Jake Camarda enjoyed a nice rookie season. Free agent running back Chase Edmonds has a strong special teams history in coverage. Deven Thompkins returned a kickoff 54 yards at San Francisco, but Palmer, a speedster out of Nebraska, should challenge for the job.

“Deven will get better,” Armstrong says. “The arrow’s pointing up with him. The kid out of Nebraska? He’s got a chance at 4.31 [seconds in the 40 yard dash]. It’ll be a good competition.”

The 2023 Bucs don’t figure to make a habit of blowing teams out. They’ll need strong special teams play more than ever. Armstrong has yet to take Licht’s recent draft hauls and forge a respectable unit, It’s now or never.

Mr. Gosselin is watching.

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25 Responses to “Younger And Faster, Yes. But Better?”

  1. Bring back the lawn chairs Says:

    Holy schnookies, that’s a model of consistency.
    Rewarding failure has never worked where I come from!

  2. Infomeplease Says:

    Maybe it’s Keith Armstrong that should be replaced? How does he continue to be the ST coach? Other NFL teams with lesser talent don’t have the problems this team does, like a running back who’s assignment it is to protect the punter, not knowing there is a fake punt happening! Geeeeezzzzz.

  3. Who Says Says Can't Say Says:

    is this more evidence of Bowles being a bad head coach? Can’t get rid of one of his buddies, despite poor performance….

  4. Destinjohnny Says:

    5 win talent no matter who the coach is
    6 wins would be a great showing

  5. Mr. Editor Says:

    Based on Armstrong’s words, maybe the problem is that the coaches look mainly at “raw talent”, such as 40 times, and are not focusing on the players’ abilities and experience on special teams. I still haven’t recovered from the “bad” Dexter Jackson.

  6. mark2001 Says:

    Time to celebrate. After all, consistently around 30 must means among the best. ranked from 1 being the worst to 32 the best.. right…. what? You mean? Nevermind. SMH..

  7. Larrd Says:

    Drafting for special teams seems to mean taking lesser athletes. It makes no sense at all.

  8. Voice of Truth Says:

    I can’t even count how many times I have complained about this ridiculously incompetent excuse for a coordinator on this here site

    Kieth should have been kaput a long time ago

    The nails in the coffin of 6 wins max – a brand new OC, a scared DC/HC, and a pitiful STC

  9. Mark Says:

    In 2008 the Bucs had a kick returner make the pro bowl: In 2009 Dante Wesley of the Panthers cheap shotted him on a fair catch and basically ended his career. Bucs haven’t had a good return man since Clifton Smith.

  10. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    We could have Devin Hester and our KR/PR blocking would render him useless.

    Our blocking is horrible and our coverage isn’t much better…….we desperately need to kick 100% touchbacks……that’s one thing Pinion was good at.

    I’m liking our punter……but we need gunners and blockers. It doesn’t matter who our return men are….they are toast.

  11. Sly Pirate Says:

    Rehire Rich Bisaccia. Problem solved.
    He was awesome. Totally should have won the Raiders HC.

  12. unbelievable Says:

    I’ve been telling y’all for five years that Armstrong is absolute garbage. The ONLY thing that has prevented them from being ranked 32nd every single year is that our kickers/punters have been decent. (And they finally figured out Ryan Smith was a good as a gunner / coverage team, before he left)

    Armstrong is clueless and Bowles is too for keeping him.

  13. Stanglassman Says:

    Special teams is a tough coaching gig. You are trying to mold a unit out of mostly the backup ILB and DBs. This team has been signing a bunch of end of their career vets to those roster spots. This year is different he is gonna have a good core of players to choose from. If he fails again we will know what the problem is. Better group better outcome is my prediction.

  14. Kalind Says:

    Armstrong is just the worst. I wish I had job security like this…sit on my. a. Do nothing at all of value and keep my job for 5 years making more each year than I do in a decade. What a crock of S.

  15. Slimy Toadface Says:

    Keith Armstrong must have some incriminating pictures of Toad Bowels in order to keep his job as special teams coach.

  16. Fred McNeil Says:

    Mark, I remember that inexcusable head shot against Clifton Smith. I think everyone called him peanut. Wesley got ejected, but onle got a single game suspension. He should have been banned.

  17. Mike Johnson Says:

    Only The Defense will keep this team in games. No QB..No go Nowhere.

  18. unbelievable Says:

    @Stanglassman – while I agree with you in theory about having to mold the unit mostly out of backups, so does every other team.

    And I disagree that the Bucs were using mostly old vets. (And even in regards to it being backups, the Bucs frequently had guys like Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, JTS, etc playing special teams.)

    In 2019, 16 of the 20 guys who logged the most special teams snaps were without their first 5 years in the league. Which included SMB, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards.

    I’m 2020, again 16 of 20 top special teams guys were within their first 5 years, still including SMB, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards.

    2021 and 2022 were similar.

    Vets haven’t been the problem. It’s Armstrong. He’s clueless.

  19. unbelievable Says:

    *were within their first 5 years in the league.

  20. Ugotrobbed Says:

    KA has had a consistent record of poor STs. At least he and TB are buds!

  21. Greg Says:

    Unfortunately Armstrong is Golden as long as TB is HC. HIs tight history going back to college makes him untouchable.

  22. garro Says:

    Damn Ira ….Amazing as always
    But damn…I was disturbed about Armstrong and the special teams before…Now I’m depressed.
    And thanks for the Bowles/Armstong info. Now i see how Armstrong has kept his job.


    Go Bucs!

  23. Joker's Paradigm Says:

    Then why is Armstrong still there? So solid coaching has nothing to do with Special Teams success, and its only the players? I highly doubt that.

  24. Razor Ramone Says:

    Yeah, I remember that head shot on Clifton too. He had real promise.

  25. nicholas houllis Says:

    2 words.
    Rich Bisaccia