Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs go all out in trying to block punts

TAMPA — The Bucs go to great lengths to protect strategic plans from opponents. But some things are so blatantly obvious even they don't attempt to disguise them.

Among those is the way the Bucs relentlessly charge after punts, an effort that resulted in Sunday's block by Dekoda Watson and 29-yard touchdown return by Adam Hayward against the Chargers.

"We really go after punt blocks," Hayward said. "And other teams know it. It's not a secret."

Certainly not after Sunday's all-out effort resulted in the game-breaking play capped by Hayward's end zone celebration. But the Bucs are going to keep blasting away anyway.

For coach Greg Schiano and his staff, it's not just a tactic, it's an attitude.

"That is part of who we are," Schiano said. "It fits into our defensive philosophy. That's just an extension of our defense when we go after it."

Aggressiveness is a basic tenet of Schiano's coaching style. Whether it's the infamous attempt to attack the kneel-down play versus the Giants or the line shift audible on a field goal that resulted in a key penalty versus the Saints, the Bucs are gaining a reputation for their uncompromising approach.

Likewise, players are beginning to adopt the mentality of their coach.

"I believe it's part of his nature," Watson said of Schiano. "That's something he wants to (instill) in us and show through us. Coach Schiano is just doing his thing. And just because it's special teams doesn't mean we have to lay down. No, that's a part of the game. We can be aggressive there, too. It defi­nitely can make or break a game."

The Bucs took a 17-14 lead after blocking Mike Scifres' punt despite the offense running only 19 plays to that point. It helped propel the Bucs to a victory on a day when the offense had its lowest output (279 yards) in six games.

The other benefit of blocking punts is the emotional lift it provides and deflating effect it has on opponents.

"When the other team has a lead and you come and turn it around like that, now your offense has a lead when they come back on the field," Hayward said. "It's a big momentum changer. It definitely gets everybody fired up. Everybody on offense was like, 'Now we have to make plays, too.' "

Said Watson, the former FSU standout: "It gets you down if you get a punt blocked, especially for a touchdown. It's hard to come back from that."

But concessions must be made when consistently aiming for blocks. One danger is the potential for roughing the kicker, a personal foul worth 15 yards; not to mention the $7,875 fine from the league office. Hayward was hit with those against the Raiders on Nov. 4 and feared Watson might meet the same fate when he saw him charging toward Scifres on Sunday.

"Being this close costs you this much," Hayward said. "That was a big fine. When I saw (Watson), I knew we were going to get there. But I was just hoping he didn't go through what I went through. You have the shame, the money, all the stuff to deal with."

Watson barreled through the kicker. But per NFL rules, because he blocked the punt, no penalty was assessed.

The Bucs also must concede some of their punt-return potential. An unsuccessful attempt can leave Roscoe Parrish with few blockers after he catches the ball. On Sunday, cornerback E.J. Biggers, who was blocking a Chargers gunner lined up on the perimeter, left his man unblocked and charged toward the punter after the snap. For the Bucs, it's a calculated risk-versus-reward decision.

"I understand Coach Schiano's (teams at Rutgers) blocked 11 punts," Parrish said. "He was pretty successful. So he's bringing that here. Me being a return man, you have to be really unselfish from that standpoint. That's just how I approach it."

And that approach won't change Sunday against the Panthers.

"We're just trying to find the best way to exploit the other team," Hayward said. "We won't think twice about it."

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