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Kicker Matt Gay impressing in practice, but the real test starts with preseason games

Fifth-round pick made 8-of-9 kicks on Saturday, but Bruce Arians wants to see what Matt Gay does under the lights in the preseason starting Friday in Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay (9) sets up fora kick during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on August 3, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay (9) sets up fora kick during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on August 3, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Aug. 4, 2019

TAMPA -- Bucs rookie kicker Matt Gay has a big leg, and he showed that yet again on Saturday with four converted field-goal attempts from 50 yards or more.

That’s what coach Bruce Arians wants to see from Gay, but he’s also quick to point out that Gay is a rookie. He has yet to play in an NFL game, either preseason or postseason, so he still has a lot to prove before he’s going to be handed the kicking job.

Gay continued his strong camp Saturday by making eight of his nine field-goal attempts. He missed his first -- a 33-yarder that would have been an extra-point attempt -- wide right, but then converted his next eight, including kicks from 50, 54, 58 and 62 yards out.

Incumbent Cairo Santos has held his own in the competition, showing that he's improved on long kicks.

Though Gay, the Bucs' fifth-round pick, seems to be the fan favorite. His 62-yard conversion drew some of the loudest cheers of the night from the crowd watching in the Bucs' indoor facility.

"I think I'm hitting the ball well," Gay said Saturday. "I'm confident right now. I'm hitting the ball strong and powerful, so I think it's going well."

MORE BUCS: Cairo Santos embracing kicking with Bucs.

Still, Arians said those kicks don't mean much compared to the attempts he will be making once the Bucs' preseason slate begins Friday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.

"It's all about games," Arians said. "It's not what you do in practice. It's about what you do in games. Heinz Field is going to be one heck of a place to test them. He's obviously got the distance. He missed the extra point because he got lazy with it. Cairo had a heck of a day yesterday. INside he hit 54, so its been a good battle.

Santos is used to having to prove himself in the preseason. He's done it before, so Gay said he will have to show mettle beyond his rookie status.

"I'm going to take in the atmosphere, just try to take in the atmosphere and understand that college is different than the NFL and realize that this is a job now and try to take that mentality into games, try to stay locked in and be able to focus," Gay said. "Learn the stadiums, because if you're going to have a long career in this league, you're going to have to be able to document each stadium, how it plays, the turf, if it's windy.

"Just want to be able to go in and learn quickly and take in any advice from the veterans that are with me and be able to go in and not start as a rookie, start like I'm a few years ahead."

Gay appears to be going into games with a level head, knowing that no matter how many long kicks he makes in practice, it all starts to matter in games this week.

MORE BUCS: Rookie Matt Gay displays powerful leg in training camp debut

"I think I've shown them some good things," Gay said. "I haven't shown them my full potential. And I;m trying to find that next level. I'm trying to get myself to that next level, because I know there's that potential there. I know what I'm doing out here is good, but it's not great, and it's not what I can be.

“I have extremely high expectations for myself, higher than I think anybody can have for me, and I’m going to try to live up to those every single day. Even the long ones I miss, to me I should be making them. So coming off the field I’m disappointed in missing a long one, so I can learn from those mistakes.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.