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Battle of the Boots: Matt Bryant vs. Mike Nugent

One of the more unnoticed training camp battles this year will take place at the kicker position.  Kickers are generally forgotten around the NFL, dismissed as a part of the team and seen by fans as either great (when they convert an attempt) or the worst (when they miss).  Everyone points to the kicker’s "one job" that they have to do; put an oddly shaped ball through two posts anywhere from 20 to 50 yards away.  That’s it, that’s all they have to do.

Matt Bryant has been with the Bucs for 4 seasons after two one-year stints with the Colts and Dolphins.  He spent his first two years in the league kicking for the New York Giants.  He’s become somewhat of a fan favorite, particularly with the heart-wrenching story of his young son passing and still coming back that week to kick the game winner.  Let’s not forget the 62 yarder he made, the second longest field goal in NFL history that pushed us to a win over Philadelphia after we tried to throw that game away. 

The Bucs front office made a good, yet interesting move this offseason.  Rather than stand pat with Matt Bryant at kicker, they opted to bring in some competition.  But rather than bring in some unheralded camp leg, some undrafted free agent, they brought in a 4 year veteran who was one of the more auspicious kickers in the league, Mike Nugent.

See you on the other side of the jump

 

Nugent was the second round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2005, and was actually the first player off the board for them.  Nugent hails from Ohio State where he set just about every kicking record they have and even won a team MVP award.  After signing on with the Jets, he enjoyed moderate success in the Meadowlands before suffering an injury last year and losing his job.  Nugent declined the Jets contract offer and opted instead to become a free agent, where he signed with the Bucs.  The contract was a one year deal worth $2.4 million, about double what Bryant is scheduled to make. 

Seems that the front office is pulling for Nugent, right?  It looks that way until you see that Nugent’s contract has no guaranteed money and if he is cut before the regular season, the Bucs owe him nothing.  Thus, we have a true training camp battle here. 

 

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape.

 

Matt Bryant

Player

Mike Nugent

34

Age

27

Baylor

College

Ohio State

8

Years Pro

4

82.1

Career FG %

81.5

62

Career Long

54

97.8

XP %

97.6

Pretty similar numbers, though Bryant has been doing it for twice as long as Nugent.  The general consensus on each player is that Bryant is accurate from 45 yards and in but struggles with accuracy outside of 45 yards.  Nugent on the other hand is seen as having the stronger leg.  Let’s take a look at the career numbers and see if those theories hold up.  Both players have kicked in the Meadowlands, which will eliminate some of the stadium bias. We’ll be looking at career numbers over the different distances kicked.

 

 

Bryant

Nugent

20-29 yards

91.7% (41/48)

96.3% (26/27)

30-39 yards

90.2% (55/61)

84.4% (27/32)

40-49 yards

74.5%(35/47)

77.3% (17/22)

50+ yards

20% (2/10)

33.3% (3/9)

Overall

82.1% (138/168)

81.5% (75/92)

PAT

97.8% (181/185)

97.6% (83/85)

TB %

6.00%

5.80%

Their overall accuracy is pretty close, but within the different yardage sets there are some discrepancies.  The stat that sticks out to me is the number of touchbacks.  Bryant has been knocked for his ability to kick it deep, but they have a similar percentage of touchbacks with Bryant having more over his last two seasons (12) than Nugent over his last 2 seasons (10).  Nugent in 3 years has attempted almost as many 50+ yard kicks as Bryant and made one more, but we all remember Bryant’s miraculous 62 yarder. 

Both are a question mark in some regards.  Bryant struggled mightily in the pre-season last year but put together a fairly solid season.  Will he be able to stay consistent and convert when needed?  Nugent has been essentially out of football for a year, and anytime a kicker has leg issues, it tends to raise eyebrows.  Can he find his Ohio State form? 

Coach Morris has said it will come down to who makes more kicks in camp.  My gut feeling is, that unless Nugent blows him away, or Bryant just absolutely shanks it, Bryant will be on the roster come opening day.  He’s a veteran presence that has overcome adversity, has shown the ability to kick with the game on the line, and is generally liked in and out of the locker room.  That’s not a knock on Nugent, but his signing has "push Bryant, motivate him" written all over it.  With training camp just a few weeks away, it’s time to start counting made and missed attempts to see who will be kicking the 2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers through the season.