TAMPA — Placekicker Ryan Succop built an 11-year NFL resume on consistency, at one point connecting on a league-record 56 straight field goals inside the 50, a streak that spanned through parts of four seasons.
Now maybe more than ever, with Tom Brady wearing pewter, the Bucs can’t afford to replay their kicking conundrum. They need stability.
That’s where the 33-year-old Succop, signed Monday to a deal that will make him $1.05 million if he makes the team, comes in. Where the Bucs tried to develop their own kickers in the past — at times spending draft picks on them — they need a trustworthy foot. And it’s clear they don’t trust incumbent Matt Gay, so Succop has this week to show he can unseat him.
After returning from a nagging knee injury that cost him most of last season, Succop waited through the strangest of offseasons. When the Bucs reached out last week to invite him to try out, he said he jumped on the first flight he could to Tampa.
“Anytime that you get an opportunity in this league, that’s something that I don’t take for granted,” Succop said Wednesday. “It takes a lot of work to get here and so I’m excited about the opportunity. And right now I’m just focusing on doing everything that I can to make sure that I’m as ready as I can be and to get acclimated as quickly as possible so that I can go out there and hopefully help the team.”
The Bucs took Gay in the fifth round last season, and despite possessing a big leg, Gay made just 77.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. He missed 3 of 4 tries in the Bucs’ season-ending overtime loss to Atlanta and missed a winning field goal in a loss to the Giants.
Succop owns a career 82.2-percent field goal success rate, including making 64 of 65 attempts over the past six seasons from inside 40 yards. Dating to 2015, Bucs kickers have made just 73.7 percent of their kicks.
“He’s got a 12- or 13-year resume so you’re just seeing if he’s healthy,” coach Bruce Arians said. “And you just watch the competition and see how it goes.”
Succop has to show the Bucs that his injury-plagued 2019 season was an outlier. He spent most of it on injured reserve (knee) and converted just 1 of 6 field-goal attempts in six games. He was 0-for-5 from 40 yards and out.
“I’m feeling well; it’s taken a lot of hard work to get back to this point so I’m really excited about that,” Succop said. “And as far as last year, we all go through things in our careers and in life and that was one of those things. I’m not really talking too much about last year; I’m focused on this year and just excited about the opportunity here.”
Succop was released by the Titans in mid-March, right when the pandemic shut down sports and led to quarantines. He began training on his own readying for a return, and two months ago, he started sending out videos to teams to show he was healthy. He kept waiting for a call, finally receiving one last week.
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The Bucs will practice Thursday at Raymond James Stadium, and Succop’s performance there will weigh heavily on the team’s decision.
“There’s a very fine line between making kicks and missing kicks,” Succop said. “So you got to really be honed in and swinging well and I think I try to try to take care of those things and let the other things take care of themselves. … . Confidence is big, probably at any position at this level, particularly with kicking. And that’s something that I’m able to look back and hopefully draw on a lot of good experiences that I’ve had.”
As for potentially being the kicker to end the Bucs’ curse?
“That doesn’t really affect anything that I do,” Succop said. “I just focus on the things that I can control and try to make sure that I’m as prepared as possible and that I’m putting in all the work that I need to do to be ready to go out and get the job done.”
Arians said that both Scotty Miller and Justin Watson will see opportunities in the third receiver role depending on the play and the formation. … He added that the toughest positions in deciding roster cuts are on defense at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and safety. … Cornerback Carlton Davis (shoulder) remained out of practice.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.