TAMPA — The initial punt of Jake Camarda’s NFL career served as a harbinger of hang-time mastery.
Standing just inside his 20-yard line, the former Georgia standout caught Zach Triner’s long snap, took three small steps forward, cocked his right leg and unloaded. At impact, the ball barely missed the outstretched hands of diving Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong in the Bucs’ season opener before sailing skyward and bouncing off the bottom of the behemoth AT&T Stadium video board.
“That thing was still on the way up, too,” NBC play-by-play veteran Mike Tirico said.
Had the game been staged a generation before in Texas Stadium, where Tom Landry once roamed, the punt might have rocketed through the opening in the roof. By rule, Camarda had to repunt, which seemed fitting: This was an effort worthy of an encore.
“I think what was going through my mind was, ‘I think we’re going to have to do this again,’ " Camarda recalled. “So I kind of just tried to get locked in on what was about to have to happen again.”
His second try, a 43-yarder, was negated by a Cowboys penalty for running into — but not roughing — the kicker. On the third try, he boomed a 63-yarder for a touchback. With that, the legend of Jake Camarda was born.
“He’s done a great job,” inside linebacker Devin White said. “I always tell him in the locker room, ‘Keep kicking the ball. You’ve got one job, and we need you to be the best at that job.’ He’s a bright spot there, a very bright spot there.”
Five games into his rookie year, Camarda has statistics that haven’t elicited gasps, but his trajectory has. The loft that made him a two-time first-team All-SEC pick as a Bulldog hasn’t betrayed him as a Buc.
One might even argue he was the team MVP in a 14-12 loss to the Packers in Week 3, when he consistently altered field position, averaging 49.5 yards on six punts and pinning his last two at or inside the 20. He averaged 49.3 yards on four punts in Sunday’s 21-15 win against the Falcons, including a 65-yard touchback that narrowly missed being downed at the 1.
“That was big-time,” co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said of Camarda’s effort against Green Bay. “That helped us out tremendously. You could hear the crowd every time that ball was kicked; you go, ‘Ooh’ and see how high it was. He was just flipping the field. He really kept us in that game. He did a great job for us.”
Like most in his craft, Camarda, drafted in the fourth round, didn’t emerge from puberty as an aspiring punter. Raised roughly 30 minutes north of downtown Atlanta in Norcross, he excelled as a centerfielder and relief pitcher at Norcross High, and caught the punting bug by watching an older cousin, Craig Tanguay.
Craig’s dad, Tim Tanguay, had been a Division I-AA All-America punter at Furman in the early 1980s and became Camarda’s first coach. By his senior year at Norcross, Camarda had evolved into the nation’s No. 1 punting prospect, according to Kohl’s, a national kicker/punter recruiting service. He was averaging 46.2 yards a punt and hit four field goals of at least 50 yards.
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Camarda started all four seasons at Georgia, earning SEC Special Teams Player of the Year honors as a junior in 2020, when he averaged 46.6 yards a punt and had only three of his 41 kickoffs returned. Two of those three returns weren’t advanced past the 3.
“Jake’s an incredible athlete,” Bucs veteran kicker Ryan Succop said. “He is just a twitchy guy. He’s fast, he jumps high, his leg’s coming through quick, and he’s got a lot of potential, a lot of just natural ability.”
That skill set has segued him from punts to placement.
While averaging 41.0 net yards on 22 punting attempts (ranking 21st in the NFL) and pinning seven inside the 20 (tied for 15th), Camarda kicks off and also holds for Succop, whose resurgent season includes eight makes in as many attempts from 40 or more yards.
Camarda says the hand-eye coordination culled from tracking fly balls in centerfield somewhat translates to handling snaps.
“Obviously, hitting spots is really important; having laces right, having (the ball) lean right,” Succop said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult holding really is and how it takes practice to be good at it. And it’s very important. So I’m thankful for the way (Camarda) worked and the job he’s doing, for sure.”
Or as coach Todd Bowles likes to say, the moment hasn’t proven too big for him. And why would it? At Georgia, Camarda brandished his hang time in some of the most hostile venues college football has.
Perhaps that partially explains his apparently seamless transition to the pro level.
“You play in these different SEC environments and they’re loud, they’re crazy and they’re ruthless,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been thrown off just yet.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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