Yardbarker Horiz

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Buccaneers Special Teams Dominating

A kickoff through the endzone.  A booming punt.

These were common sights last weekend as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 26-20 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

But it is much more than a one game phenomenon. During the Tony Dungy coaching era of the 1990s, the Buccaneers were well known to have excellent special teams play.  It appears that phase of the game is returning to it's dominant form.

It has been a long and winding special teams road for General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris.  In 2009, the first year of the new leadership, Tampa Bay utilized five different kickers during the first seven games of the season before finding Connor Barth, who has been the steady, heady presence an NFL team needs at the position.  In fact, last weekend, Connor Barth hit four field goals and two extra points generating more than half of the Buccaneer's points last Sunday.  Add in his kickoffs without returns and there is a case for MVP last weekend.

Punting has been equally tricky for Dominik and Morris to get a grip on.  That is, until this past offseason when Dominik took a rare dive into the free agent pool and signed Micheal Koenen, turning a solid double-play: fix a position of need for Tampa Bay and remove a player who had never missed a game from the Atlanta Falcons.  Textbook case of playing to win.

Last weekend, Koenen averaged nearly 50 yards per punt, but the real story is much better:  Tampa Bay currently ranks 4th in the NFL in net yards per punt (42.5 yards).  Not only has Koenen been a great addition, but the entire punting team has been making sure that those big booms don't get wasted by a big return.

Tampa fans love their defense, and the young talent on offense is explosive.  But the special teams play, the "We-fence" as it it called at One Buc Place, has become equally valuable to the team's playoff run in 2011.


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