Connor Barth says that, especially in the life of a kicker, the NFL "stands for 'Not for Long.' " Barth, 24, knows from experience, having been on three teams in three professional seasons. He was the Bucs' third kicker last year and did a solid job, including making three field goals of 50 yards or more against Miami. But he admitted looking over his shoulder and, taking nothing for granted, lived in a Tampa hotel. But Barth, who will start in Week 1 for the first time, hopes he's the last leg of the Bucs' kicking carousel. He entered camp in the best shape of his life, went 5-for-5 in the preseason and traded his hotel key for an apartment close to One Buc Place. Barth has a month-to-month lease on the fully furnished apartment, but he is eager to make Tampa his permanent address. "This is a big year for me," he said. "I want to finally, hopefully establish myself as a good kicker in this league."
What Barth and the Bucs desire is consistency.
Tampa Bay had a league-low 16 field goals last year, with the worst percentage (61.5 percent). When $2.5 million free agent Mike Nugent flopped after taking over for Matt Bryant, the franchise's most successful kicker, and fill-in Shane Andrus failed to impress, Barth was brought in Nov. 3. There were plenty of big moments in his nine-game stint, including a 47-yard field goal in overtime to beat New Orleans and his three kicks of 50 yards or more in Miami (making him the fourth kicker in league history to complete the feat).
But four of Barth's five misses were from 30-49 yards, two of them less than 40 yards — kicks he knows he has to make.
"You don't want to take the short ones for granted; those are big kicks, too," Barth said. "You want to be money on everything, and that's my goal. You're going to miss, but my goal is to be consistent. Take one kick at a time."
Barth, a former North Carolina standout, picked up his offseason workouts in Chapel Hill, dropping some weight. But it's an improved mental approach that has him comfortable this season.
The Bucs showed confidence in Barth by bringing in just undrafted free agent Hunter Lawrence to compete in camp.
"Last year, I got a little bit caught up in mentally, just, 'Am I going to be here? Am I not going to be here?' " said Barth, who has been with the Chiefs and Dolphins. "But now it's a matter of having fun and loving the game. That's what got me here, and you can't lose sight of that. The NFL is a tough business, and if you're not having fun, it's going to tear you apart.
"Now it's just enjoying the ride. Because it's a blessing to be out here."
When Barth rides back to his apartment after practice, it's a much better feeling.
"I can finally meet some people that are around all the time, not like a hotel, where people are in and out everyday," he said. "It's a little more sense of a home. I definitely want Tampa to eventually be my home. I've just got to take care of business, and everything else will work out."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.