TAMPA — So this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for:
A drive that ends prematurely, but a kicker who can walk out near midfield and drill a 55-yarder that looks long and pure from the moment it leaves his foot.
And this is exactly what you fear:
Three seconds remaining in the game and an inexperienced kicker getting iced by the opponent, then hitting a wobbly 49-yard attempt that clangs off the upright.
Welcome to the first night of Jose Borregales’ 2022 preseason on Saturday.
And welcome to Tampa Bay’s dilemma.
In the next few weeks, the Bucs will be choosing between safe and gutsy. Between experience and potential. Between the dependability of Ryan Succop and the allure of Borregales.
For 59:57, Borregales looked like the real deal Saturday night. His 55-yarder would have been good from 60, and he nailed a meaningless 49-yarder after the Dolphins called timeout.
But with the game on the line — even an insignificant, preseason game that hardly a soul will remember — he whiffed badly.
“I’ve just got to be better. It’s my job to make the kicks and I didn’t execute. That’s on me,” Borregales said. “The snap and the hold were perfect, I put all the blame on me. The offense gave us a chance to win the game, and I just didn’t come through.”
His sense of accountability is admirable, but the Bucs would prefer dependability. Head coach Todd Bowles did not offer much of a lifeline afterward.
“The first (field goals) was great and he hit the second one when they called the timeout and froze him,” Bowles said. “He got a bad hit on the third one for the game when he hit the crossbar. It looked ugly coming off the foot. We’ve got to make those kicks. That’s what their job is.”
Still, you get the sense that the Bucs would like Borregales to win the job. His upside is intriguing and, according to spotrac.com, he’d save Tampa Bay about $1 million on the salary cap.
But is the occasional 50-yarder worth risking automatic conversions on shorter kicks?
You see, Succop has been slightly better than league average on kicks up to 39 yards, but he’s noticeably weaker on anything longer than 40.
Highlighting that disparity, the Bucs have pretty much given up on longer field goals with Succop on the roster. They have attempted only four kicks of more than 50 yards in the last two seasons, which is the lowest total in the NFL. The average team has had almost three times as many 50-plus attempts.
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Borregales, on the other hand, was 5-of-6 on 50-yard attempts in his final two seasons at FIU and Miami, and won the Lou Groza Award as the NCAA’s top placekicker in 2020. The Bucs managed to hide him on the practice roster all of last season, but would probably risk losing him if they tried it again.
“I’m good enough to be a starter in this league. I truly believe that of myself,” Borregales said. “I’ve just got to execute better.”
The Bucs had this same decision a couple of years ago. They had drafted Matt Gay in the fifth round in 2018, and he immediately gave them the big foot they had sought. He was 5-of-8 on field goals of 50 yards or more, which put him in the NFL’s upper echelon.
But he was also erratic on shorter kicks, and the Bucs eventually decided they preferred Succop’s reliability versus Gay’s dynamic potential.
That decision paid off with a Super Bowl in 2020 when Succop was 28-of-31 on field goals in the regular season and was perfect on all nine of his postseason attempts.
But Succop’s percentage dipped a little in 2021, his lack of range was more noticeable and then-coach Bruce Arians criticized him late in the season. And Gay, ironically, won the Super Bowl with the Rams and eliminated the Bucs in the playoffs with a short field goal as time expired at Raymond James.
Will the Bucs make the same decision again three weeks from now? Will they go the conservative route with Succop, or will they gamble that Borregales is on the verge of becoming a star?
“If you’re dependable, then you’re a good kicker,” Bowles said Sunday morning. “The job is to make them consistently. You’re going to miss one every now and then, but you’ve got to be consistent overall.”
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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