The Bucs began last season without their two longtime specialists, kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell. Bryant hurt a hamstring in training camp and missed the preseason, leaving the Bucs little choice but to go with new addition Mike Nugent. That led to hard feelings from Bryant and scrutiny for the coaches and front-office people who closed the book on him after five seasons in Tampa Bay, especially after Nugent turned into a major disappointment, leading to his release in October.
Nugent was replaced by journeyman Shane Andrus, who was no better. In the latter half of the season, the Bucs settled on Connor Barth, left, who had a banner day against Miami with three kicks from 50 yards-plus but was shaky down the stretch. Despite his struggles, he has a chance to remain the kicker for the foreseeable future.
Bidwell had season-ending surgery during the preseason and was recently released. He eventually signed with the Redskins, rejoining former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen. Veteran Dirk Johnson replaced him but suffered an injury and missed the last several games. Enter Sam Paulescu, who had a 42.6-yard average during the final five games. He'll likely have some competition this fall.
What they're looking for
When the Bucs brought in Nugent, they liked him because they envisioned him having a stronger leg than Bryant, who was erratic on longer kicks and didn't have as many touchbacks on his kickoffs as the Bucs would have liked. If Barth can satisfy those wishes, he has a chance to be the man. But he'll probably have to defend his job from at least one competitor.
Fitting the bill
It's rare for a team to spend a draft pick on a kicker or punter, but considering the Bucs have 11 selections, they have the leeway to do so if they wish. Special teams were the Bucs' best facet last season, and to continue to build on that, they need a strong kicking game. Perhaps they'll give consideration to a kicker such as Aaron Pettrey, a strong-legged prospect with range beyond 50 yards.
Top 10 prospects
|Player, vital STATS||Comment|
| Aaron Pettrey K, 6-1, 202
|6-for-6 at 40-yards-plus in 2009|
|Zolton Mesko P, 6-5, 231, Michigan||44.5-yard average in 2009|
|Brett Swenson K, 5-8, 185, Michigan State||5-for-7 at 40- yards-plus in 2009|
|Hunter Lawrence K, 6-0, 187, Texas||24-for-27 as a senior|
|Leigh Tiffin K, 6-2, 212, Alabama||30 -for-35 for national champs|
|Mike Brandtner P, 6-0, 200, Iowa State||40.8-yard average|
|Trevor Ward P, 6-5, 200, Southern Utah||Three punts over 60 yards|
|Alex Steigerwald K, 5-11, 181, Toledo||287 career points|
|Matt Dodge P, 6-2, 220, East Carolina||45.8-yard average in 2009|
|Mike Salerno K, 5-11, 170, Northern Illinois||Career-long 52-yard FG in 2008|
The Bucs aren't likely to draft a kicker or punter, but it would be at least mildly surprising if they didn't bring in a young kicker and punter to training camp for competition. They'll definitely have a couple of undrafted prospects to look at during the rookie minicamp, too.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer