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Santos embraces kicking competition with Bucs

Cario Santos, entering his sixth year in the league, is unfazed by the kicking competition with rookie Matt Gay.
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Bradley Pinion (8), left, holds the ball as kicker Cairo Santos (5) practices a kick with the snap from long snapper Zach Triner (97), with kicker Matt Gay (9) waiting for his turn during mandatory mini-camp on June 6, 2019 at the AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, Florida.
Published Aug. 3

Tampa – Bucs veteran Cairo Santos enters the 2019 preseason entrenched in a kicking competition, but he doesn’t want to waste much time looking over his shoulder at the newcomer who wants to take his job.

Santos converted seven of his eight field goal attempts in kicking drills on Friday, making from 51 and 55 yards out. His lone miss came from 59 yards, his longest attempt of the day.

Matt Gay, Tampa Bay’s fifth round draft pick out of the University of Utah, is showing off a strong leg in Buccaneers training camp. On Thursday, he hit six of his eight field goal attempts, converting two kicks from 53 yards out before missing from 57 and 56. Last week, Gay converted from as far as 57 yards.

“I hope we both do well and make the decision hard for management,” Santos said. “My job is still to make every kick, with him here or not.”

RELATED STORY: Rookie kicker Matt Gay displays powerful leg in training camp debut

The Buccaneers have been unable to consistently convert on field goal attempts of 50 yards or longer for each of the last three seasons. Since the start of 2016, Tampa Bay’s kickers are a combined 4-for-10 on such attempts.

A year ago, kicker Chandler Catanzaro made his lone field goal attempt of 50 yards or longer. The Bucs cut him in November and signed Santos. Over seven games with Tampa Bay, Santos converted nine of his 12 field goal attempts with a season-long of 45 yards. He has not converted a field goal attempt of 50 yards or longer since 2016, when he made two kicks of that distance with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The last season in which Tampa Bay converted on more than half of its long field goal attempts came in 2015, a year in which Kyle Brindza and Connor Barth combined to go 5-for-9 on field goals longer than 50 yards.

“It’s something this team has been stressing, all [organized team activities], all camp,” Santos said of long field goals. “I feel like half our attempts are over 50 yards.”

The need for a strong-legged kicker led the team to spend a draft pick on Gay. Rather than splitting field goal attempts between the two kickers every day, the Bucs are alternating primary kickers daily to give one player all the live attempts.

Santos, entering his sixth year in the league, said the practice is unusual for him, but he has taken well to the routine. Taking all the reps at camp allows Santos to get eight or nine reps on his assigned kicking days.

“The more times we’re out there, kicking in front of the team, in front of coach Arians… I think that gets us ready for the real challenge.”

Despite the fierce competition from the 25-year-old rookie, Santos said his focus remains on making kicks in camp.

“It’s something I’ve been working on hard,” Santos said of the long field goal attempts. “I’m very pleased with the work I’ve put in and how my body is feeling.”

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