It's no secret that the Buccaneers struggled to punt the football last season. No need to reopen that painful wound again.
When trotting out a defense featuring several new and young faces, it would be a boon to such a unit to have a punter that can flip a field and get a defense out of a bad situation. A guy who can turn 4th and 15 from their own 20 and make it 1st and 10 from the opponents 25-30 yard line from time to time. Someone who can hang it high and long and give his team time to get down the field and get in position to make a tackle.
Not so much.
6th-round draft pick Brent Bowden failed to show anything above mediocre distance in the preseason and was subsequently released. Chris Bryan, a former Australian rules footballer, was brought in following his release by the Packers and signed just before the start of the season. Visions of punts beyond 30-35 yards danced through all of our heads.
However, stats don't lie......
Distance continues to remain problematic in 2010. With a gross punting average of 38.3 yards per kick, only 2 teams in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, have a worse gross punting average. I've seen Chris Bryan hit the ball well and churn out a 57-yard kick agianst Cleveland with a tight rising spiral. That needs to be repeated often and quickly. Conversely, on a bright note, the Buccaneers punt coverage on those punts has been nothing short of excellent. Although they rank 24th in the NFL in net punting average at 34.7 yards per punt, the difference between the gross and net punting average is only 3.6 yards, which is the second-smallest margin in the league. Only the Minnesota Vikings have been stingier on punt returns, with a difference of 2.0 yards between their gross and net punting averages. Sure, the Buccaneers haven't been outkicking any coverages with such a short gross average, but they are staying in their lanes and limiting the damage from those short kicks.
It's no mystery that the Buccaneer defense was put in a tough position at times last year given the porous punting average from 2009. I do think this defense is better this year and will continue to get better as Brian Price moves into an increased role next to Gerald McCoy, but a 2009 redux performance from this version of the special teams unit will only make it tougher for that young defense to be as productive as it wants to be quickly. This is a bend-but-don't break defense, but when it's starting off a little closer to the opponents red zone than it should be, it'll break more often.