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Kicker Connor Barth making case to stick with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA — The Bucs haven't shown much of a commitment to their kickers this season. Connor Barth is their third.

But Barth is making a case for himself beyond this season, with Sunday's winning field goal in overtime against the Saints the latest reason for the team to believe Barth could have a place long term.

"All he's done is come in here and make field goals for us and, really, be consistent," coach Raheem Morris said Monday. "I know he missed a couple. But for the most part, he's been banging them. He had the big three 50-yard field-goal day (against Miami last month), he had the game-winner against the New Orleans Saints.

"He's pretty much been consistent all year."

Barth has connected on 13 of 18 field-goal attempts. But he is 6-of-7 in his past three games, and the coaching staff's confidence in him continues to grow. And Barth has been good from long range, going 7-of-10 beyond 40 yards, including 3-of-4 from beyond 50.

"It's nice to see him grow up and mature and do things well," Morris said. "You definitely have to take him into consideration for the future. He's a young kicker with a strong leg."

As for the 47-yard winner Barth, 23, kicked against the Saints, Morris said, "That's mental toughness. It wasn't noisy for long (in the Louisiana Superdome). He nailed that thing, and it got quiet. It was a beautiful silence. It was awesome. To have that kind of toughness to stand in there and deliver … it looked like practice. It was nice."

Two down: FB Earnest Graham and DE Jimmy Wilkerson, both starters, were placed on injured reserve after being injured Sunday.

Graham tore a ligament in his right big toe. Wilkerson tore his left anterior cruciate knee ligament and presumably will need reconstructive surgery.

Graham will be replaced by FB Chris Pressley, who was signed this season off the Bengals' practice squad. Pressley has played extensively the past few weeks and was key to the consistency of the running game Sunday.

"He's really just gradually picked up the offense," Morris said. "He first started with a small package (of plays). … Now he's just starting to pick up the whole offense. He's a smart kid who works hard and is really giving us a lot of punch."

It's unclear who will replace Wilkerson, but it likely will be a combination of DEs Tim Crowder and Kyle Moore.

Off target? QB Josh Freeman started 3-of-8 and missed badly on some of his early attempts against the Saints before finishing strong. Is accuracy a problem for Freeman, who has 16 interceptions in nine appearances?

"He's pretty accurate," Morris said. "He's not as accurate as (Saints QB) Drew Brees. So you have to be careful who you compare him to. (He) is a strong-armed kid that can deliver any football that you ask him to deliver. … There's always something you can work on."

That something is establishing timing with his receivers, which Morris said will be an offseason priority for Freeman, who did not get many snaps in training camp.

Thought about it: The Bucs considered using Freeman on quarterback sneaks in short-yardage situations Sunday, particularly a fourth-and-inches scenario in the fourth quarter.

But offensive coordinator Greg Olson said the Bucs didn't like the look they were getting from the Saints' defensive front and weren't happy with the kind of surge they got from their offensive line on the previous play.

Kicker Connor Barth making case to stick with Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 12:22am]
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