I don’t know if I can remember a time where a kicking battle was as entertaining as the one happening right now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the classic story. Veteran vs young kid trying to earn his way as a respected professional.
When Jason Licht drafted kicker Matt Gay in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bucs Twitter had a predictable reaction. An understandable one even. This is the franchise, after all, which traded u- - you know what, we’re not going there this time.
Entering training camp it was Matt Gay and Cairo Santos. Which kicker would come out on top? This was one of the bigger questions burning in the minds of Buccaneers fans and media as the players reported to start off the pre-season sessions.
Day one, it was the Cairo Santos show.
Veteran K Cairo Santos got the call in the first field goal drill of camp. He kicked 9 times, starting with a 23-yarder and then progressively moving back 4 yards each kick. He made 8 of 9, only missing on the 55-yarder at the end.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) July 26, 2019
On day two, the rookie got his chance, and Matt Gay matched the veteran.
Rookie Matt Gay got his turn today in the kicking competition and, like Cairo Santos on Friday, made 8 of 9, ranging from 23 to 57 yards. Gay’s one miss hit the right post from 48 yards. His 57-yarder would’ve been good from much further out.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) July 27, 2019
It’s basically been the same ever since. There have been some down moments, as there will be in any kicking competition. But the important part of this whole thing is that each kicker has had a strong start to camp with the first live opportunities coming up in the next week.
Right now, each kicker knows nobody is trying to block his kicks and punter Bradley Pinion was brought in to handle kickoff duties for 2019 as well. So that takes a little off the plate of whichever kicker makes the final roster.
Speaking of the final roster. This is where we get ready for the long haul. Arians was asked Friday about when the winner of this particular battle could be named, to which he responded, “The last cut. We don’t have to cut him until after the last game, so...”.
Pretty simple. This team has struggled through kicking problems for way too long, and this coaching staff is dedicated to getting the best guy on the field through trials and competition. I, for one, am all for it.
If I had to give the edge to one of them, I’d say Gay has the advantage right now. Despite missing some extra points on Saturday, he ended the day with a 62-yard bomb that would have been good from St. Petersburg. And Tampa Bay Rays fans can tell you, that’s a good distance away from the Bucs’ training facility.
K Matt Gay nails a 62-yarder. Crowd erupts.— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) August 3, 2019
Cheap shots at the Rays aside, the kick was impressive and the rookie has been - mostly - impressive as well. But it isn’t going to be indoor practice kicks that get the job.
“It’s all about games.” Arians said, “It’s not what you do in practice. Heinz Field is going to be one heck of a place to test them. He’s (Matt Gay) obviously got the distance, but he missed the extra point because he got lazy with it. Cairo [Santos] had a heck of a day yesterday and inside he hit a 54 [yard field goal], so it’s been a good battle.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what this team looks like on the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers later this week, and for once, the kicking game is part of that excitement.