When Connor Barth tore the Achilles tendon in his right kicking leg during a charity basketball game last summer, some believed it was an injury that could ultimately cost him his career.
"I think a lot of people doubted me more than I doubted myself," Barth said. "But as soon as I hurt it, I was in the hospital and I told my parents I would be fine. Everyone thought I just sprained it because I walked off the floor. But I knew what I did as soon as it happened. You never know what can happen, but all you can do is work as hard as you can."
Barth, who has made 82.4 percent of his career field goal attempts, missed all of 2013 but believes he has made a complete recovery. He began kicking again in October but didn't feel like his old self until the new year.
"Probably in January when I really started to finally find my groove," Barth said. "As a kicker, I really started to feel that strength come back and that power. The biggest key is my push off to get to that plant (leg). It feels good. I'm kicking the ball great. I'm ready to go back to work."
Barth says he has been making field goals from 61 yards. As for the proposal that eventually could move extra points to the 20-yard line, making them 37-yard kicks, Barth said, "I think it could put more values in kickers. I'm not bragging about my stats, but they're not bad inside the 40." Barth was 15-of-17 from 30-49 yards in 2012.
MY FAVORITE MARTIN: RB Doug Martin says he will be cleared for full activity next week after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
"I feel great. My arm is about to get cleared this week," Martin said. "I'm just getting my strength back. It's been too long since I've been out of the game."
Martin's absence had the positive effect of forcing the Bucs to build depth with Mike James and Bobby Rainey, who each rushed for more than 500 yards. But coach Lovie Smith says the Bucs will rely on Martin.
"We're going to lean on one guy, but I like the rotation," Smith said. ''I think you have to have a bell cow. He's ours. At the running back position, there are enough reps to go along. We want three guys we feel comfortable with. Two will play, but it's not a rotation that where every series we're going to have a different guy in there.''
FOSTER-ING THE BLITZ: The biggest improvement LB Mason Foster will have to make is covering the deep middle in the Tampa 2. Smith is confident Foster can handle that — and more.
"I'm convinced he does (have the ability to cover)," Smith said. "That isn't as hard as you might think. The times we ask, a lot of people think we're just asking him to run down the middle of the field. But he's protected with guys on the outside, half-field guys back behind him. There's a lot more."
Like blitzing. From 2000-2005, former Bears MLB Brian Urlacher averaged more than five sacks a season playing mostly in Smith's defense.
"He will blitz," Smith said of Foster. "The position will blitz. Brian Urlacher will tell you. You look at Brian's numbers and he has quite a few sacks. Man coverage is a part of what we will ask of that position also. Then just being out in front of the team. All those things, we feel like Mason can do."