Bucs hope to score big returns

Last year's primary returner, Eric Page, has fielded punts. [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times
Last year's primary returner, Eric Page, has fielded punts. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times ]
Published June 5, 2014

TAMPA — The Bucs haven't returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown since November 2010 — only the Redskins have gone longer without one among the 32 NFL teams — and Kevin O'Dea's job is to change that this season.

The Bucs special-teams coordinator is well-equipped to help on returns. As the Chiefs assistant special-teams coach last season, he saw Kansas City return four kicks (two punts and two kickoffs) for scores, and he works to simplify the art of the return for his players.

"Really, what we're teaching is geometry and physics, but it's in phys ed," O'Dea said Tuesday. "They have to understand their angles, they have to understand their pad level, how we want it done, where the hands have to go and where they can't go. We don't want a good return brought back. We've got to get this thing rolling."

O'Dea wouldn't name any specific returners who have stood out in two weeks of practices — last year's primary returner, Eric Page, has fielded punts, as has WR Skye Dawson and rookie Solomon Patton, among others. He said the noncontact nature of drills thus far has limited the insights coaches can get about which players are ready to handle the collisions that come with returns.

"Right now, all I can tell is they're catching the ball, moving forward, they have good hands and they're being consistent," O'Dea said. "As far as the toughness part of it, as far as making people miss, I can't tell about that. … Until we get in pads, we really don't know those things."

The NFC South as a division hasn't had big plays on returns — Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina all have gone two full seasons without a touchdown on a kickoff or punt return. By comparison, 23 of the 28 teams in the rest of the NFL have at least one score in that span.

MCCOWN PRAISE: Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford wasn't the only coach glowing this week about new QB Josh McCown. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said the 11-year veteran has already made a huge impression with the team. Arroyo praised McCown's abilities and the extra time he's spent in meeting rooms and watching film.

"He's done a great job of grabbing the group, grabbing the offense, from the O-line to the backs to the wide receivers and independently working with them," Arroyo said. "The core traits that you're looking for in a pro, he depicts exactly to a tee. He is what I think we thought he was, and that's awesome."

DOES SIZE MATTER? After Seattle won the Super Bowl thanks to a tall secondary, the thought of 6-foot cornerbacks has become an NFL trend. The Bucs have four of them, including last year's No. 43 pick, Johnthan Banks, although cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd said size isn't what matters most.

"Whether it's a big corner, short corner, you're as valuable as the plays you make," Byrd said. "The size isn't the issue. It's going out and not just being active but being productive. And that's the difference."

Byrd said one of those 6-foot cornerbacks, veteran Danny Gorrer, has been productive, lining up on the outside, against slot receivers and at nickel.

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"His versatility shines when he's out there on the field," Byrd said.