Murray kickoffs a concern for Bucs moving forward

Bucs kicker Patrick Murray missed only one field goal inside 50 yards all season, but struggled to put kickoffs in the end zone in 2017.(LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES)
Bucs kicker Patrick Murray missed only one field goal inside 50 yards all season, but struggled to put kickoffs in the end zone in 2017.(LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES)
Published January 2

Patrick Murray stepped in and performed well on field goals after taking over as the Bucs' kicker early this season, going 17-for-18 on field goals shorter than 50 yards.

He missed three of five attempts from 50 yards and beyond, and coach Dirk Koetter brought up another concern Monday about his leg strength on kickoffs.

"Pat, his strength is not his kickoffs," coach Dirk Koetter said Monday, reviewing highs and lows from a 5-11 season. "We have teams in this league kicking it 80 percent touchbacks, and if you just look at what a kickoff return really is, if you just took a touchback every time and took the ball to the 25-yard line, you are going to be in the top 10."

The Bucs had the NFL's lowest touchback percentage at 35 percent in 2017, down from ranking ninth in 2016 with a 64 percent touchback rate when Roberto Aguayo handled kickoffs. Murray's average kickoff went 60.8 yards, which ranked 25th among NFL kickers.

Making matters worse, the Bucs gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the final two weeks of the season — Carolina's Damiere Byrd went 103 yards, then New Orleans' Alvin Kamar went 106. Tampa Bay was the only NFL team to give up more than one kickoff-return touchdown in 2017, with the 2015 Bears as the only other team in the last four NFL seasons to do so.

"Part of kicking it to the end zone … is hang time, and that's one thing Pat struggled with is hang time on his kickoffs," Koetter said. "When a guy is getting the ball in not the proper hang time and you have to cover those kicks, it just makes it tougher on your coverage team. We struggled with that the last two weeks especially of the season."

Murray's consistency on shorter field goals was a welcome change — Nick Folk had missed four field goals inside the 50 and two extra points in the first four weeks of the season, and Murray had just one such miss in 11 games until missing an extra point Sunday.

"Any time you get to step on an NFL field, it's a blessing," said Murray, who is an unrestricted free agent this spring. "Considering what's gone on the last few years for me, I was overjoyed that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave me another opportunity to come and help win some games. There were a few things I could have done better, but thankfully I have great teammates that stepped up and made big plays like last night."

The Bucs were down by that missed extra point until Jameis Winston's touchdown pass to rookie Chris Godwin with nine seconds left Sunday. Murray said rather than feel absolved by that finish, he'll focus on not missing the kicks in the first place.

"I need to be perfect, and that's the way that I think," Murray said. "Now I have an entire offseason to get better, and I look forward to next year."

Re-signing Murray would bring some consistency to a position that the Bucs had lacked in 2016 and at the start of this season. He said he's hopeful he'll have the chance to return as Tampa Bay's kicker next fall.

"That's something that I hope can get figured out quickly, because I do love this team and love the guys in this locker room," he said.

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