Bucs special-teams coordinator Nate Kaczor spoke Wednesday for the first time since the end of last season, and he said one area where the team can make an improvement in 2018 is on kickoff return coverage.
That unit had been fairly good until the final two weeks of the 2017 season, which saw Carolina's Damiere Byrd take a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, then New Orleans' Alvin Kamara do the same for 106 yards in the season finale. The Bucs had allowed only four kickoff returns of more than 100 yards in their 40-year history before those back-to-back games.
Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFL — joining the 2015 Bears as the only teams in the last four years — to give up two kickoff-return touchdowns in the same season. The entire league had seven total in 2017, over 256 games.
"The most frustrating thing about that is we were having good success with that unit," Kaczor said. "There were some dynamics that changed with personnel. A lot of it was health-related and obviously hang time at times. It was never really one thing, but how it all works together, some of that got breached a little bit."
The Bucs have made a change at kicker, with newcomer Chandler Catanzaro significantly better in touchback percentage than last year's kicker, Pat Murray, who finished last in the league. The number of returns can vary greatly — the Bucs, with a bad defense and not kicking into end zones as often, had 47 kickoff returns against them, second-most in the league, while Carolina had just 12 all season.
The Bucs gave up 24.8 yards per return, third-highest in the league, but as Kaczor pointed out, injuries on defense forced special-teams regulars to move into roles that took them off the coverage teams. Special-teams captain Josh Robinson also missed five games due to injury.
Kaczor said a healthy lineup and improved kicking should get the kick coverage back where they want it to be, with a focus on working together.
"You've got to be able to hang onto the confidence of the players that had success on those units, and show them how to recapture that," he said. "It was really just all of us doing it a little better those last couple weeks."