The third dimension of football
When it comes to most important positions of the NFL, the most controversial discussion is, which side of the ball is more important?
What if I told you it wasn’t offense or defense but instead, special teams? To win a football game you need to score points. Offense is the the easiest path to score points. You assemble 11 men on the field to use their speed, strength and combination of hand-eye coordination, mental strength and footwork to create space and march the football down into the end zone.
Before the offense touches the ball, special teams makes it all happen. Having a kick returner who is both speedy and elusive is key, As well as others who are able to make blocks and rush the kicker. Players who play on special teams are usually players with limited snaps who are going to give it everything they have every snap to try and get noticed by coaches. Giving your offense good field position is essential. When you only have 45 yards to try and march down instead of 75, there’s much less pressure on the quarterback and the playbook is then wide open. The buccaneers have struggled with starting field position, last year only averaging 6.6 yards per return. While the Bucs offense was often difficult to stop, imagine how potent they could be with better field position and kickoff returns for touchdowns? The Bucs only have had FOUR in franchise history, the first not coming until 2010.
Special Teams affects the defense as well. With the right players on special teams, The defense can get after the punter/kicker when the opposing team cannot get a first down and is forced to punt or kick a field goal. A blocked punt sets up your offense with tremendous field position and a field goal stops any kind of a meant of the offense hard and keep the points off the board. Both of these things are incredibly hard to do and it takes not only speed but precise timing of snaps. In fact, blocking a kick or a punt happens only a handful of times throughout the NFL season as a whole.
Having a good punter is also key, as the Bucs addressed this issue in Free Agency with releasing Brian Anger and signing double threat Bradley Pinion who can both do kickoffs and punting. Brian Anger’s punts
A more regular anomaly is having players on special teams that are able to get to the kick returner and stop them dead in their tracks so they cannot give their team good field position. Players that play special teams defense are usually quick, hard hitters who excel in tackling. Being able to peel off blockers and get close enough to the returner to force a fair catch or tackle them for a small return helps the defense build momentum even against the most talented offenses.
One of the most notable names on the Buccaneers special-teams is Ryan Smith. After making a remarkable play to keep the ball out of the end zone and pin the opposing team on the 1 yard line, he went on to be poised to be a starter at cornerback next season. Receivers and linebackers also make up these “gunners” such as Jack Cichy and even Devante Bond who started last season and played well.
“Kickers are people too” Has been a comedic saying and even hashtag going around the football world as of late. Kickers get very, very little love when it comes to fans and even media when in reality are the most important component of special teams. Ex-Colts kicker Pat Mcafee knows this, as he started “For The Brand” which celebrates when kickers and punters alike make a great play, and rightfully so.
Just ask the Buccaneers, who seem to have been “cursed” by free agent kicker Matt Bryant after releasing him. The Bucs have missed the most kicks in the nfl over the last few seasons, even after trading up in the second round of 2017 draft to take the best kicker in college football, Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo would go on to make only 71% of his kicks. Nick folk and now-kicker Cairo Santos have also struggled. The Bucs lost multiple close game to missed kicks and poor punts.
With the addition of Bradley Pinion to take the load of kickoffs from Santos, the Bucs should vastly see improvement and look to reverse the curse, flip the field and change the fortune in Tampa bay. With players like mike Evans on one side and Lavonte David on the other, who knew a kicker could be the one to steal the show?