TAMPA — Rookie Brent Bowden is the only punter on the Bucs roster, which is a testament to his talent.
"It shows they have an awful lot of faith in me, and I'm grateful," Bowden said.
The Bucs hope their faith isn't as misplaced as were so many wayward punts last season.
Tampa Bay went through three punters last season. Josh Bidwell had hip surgery and was placed on injured reserve. Dirk Johnson was an inadequate replacement, ranking 26th in the NFL with an average of 36.7 net yards per punt. So the Bucs finished with Sam Paulescu, who fared worse in netting 35.5.
Bowden, a sixth-round draft pick, is competing only with expectations. "He knows we had three (punters) a year ago and we don't want to have three any more," special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said.
At 6 feet 2, 202 pounds, Bowden is big and athletic, with a strong leg. He played at Virginia Tech, which emphasizes special teams. He finished with a career net average of 36.4 years and a gross of 42.2 while downing 72 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Because so many college teams are going to rugby-style punts — basically punting on the run — Bowden's ability to directional punt while staying in the traditional pocket excites the Bucs.
"No one wants to kick the ball to (the Bears') Devin Hester. Certainly, no one wants to kick the ball to (the Browns') Josh Cribbs," Bisaccia said. "Everybody on TV says, "Why don't you just kick it out of bounds?' It's actually hard to kick it out of bounds if you want it to go more than 26 yards. I know it looks easy in the back yard, but it's a difficult thing to do."
Bisaccia says the biggest lesson for Bowden is to understand what type of punt is needed based on the ebb and flow of the game.
"Guys that have gotten good at this have learned to dominate field position based on where we are on the field," Bisaccia said. "If we're backed up, you'd like … a pretty good hit where we can play the field a little bit. But if you're punting out of your own end zone, you're not going to get all the steps you need to hit one of those.
"If we've just had two tackles for a loss and an incomplete pass on offense, the crowd is probably on their feet a little bit. If you give them a 3.6 (-second) hang time in the middle of the field, you'd better be ready to make the tackle. But if you kicked it out of bounds at 33 yards, you might be able to squash their momentum."
A lot of rookies will be on the field in tonight's preseason opener at Miami. Few will probably play as big of a role this season as Bowden.
"Your gross (punt yardage) gets you to the Pro Bowl," Bisaccia said. "But your red zone and net gives you a chance to get to the Super Bowl."
DOUBLE NICKEL ENDORSEMENT: It was more important to the Bucs than Derrick Brooks for the 11-time Pro Bowl player to talk about his retirement at One Buc Place on Thursday, a symbolic end to their cold war.
In his brief address before taking questions the day after he announced his retirement on his website, Brooks failed to mention former coach Jon Gruden or the men responsible for his release, GM Mark Dominik or coach Raheem Morris.
So No. 55 was under no obligation to give the current regime two thumbs-up for their rebuilding efforts.
But he did.
"Just going back to what they know is going to breed a confidence," Brooks said. "Understanding what defense you have to play, not having to question it. … That's going to help them. Being in this offense, now the West Coast system, going back to that from Day 1, now that breeds a lot of confidence in these players. … I'm predicting more success than most are giving them right now."