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Bucs turn page (quickly) to Nick Folk

Nick Folk (2) kicks during the third day of training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Nick Folk (2) kicks during the third day of training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Aug. 15, 2017

JACKSONVILLE — Dirk Koetter beamed like a new father, ready to pass out cigars.

"Our new kicker is Nick Folk," Koetter said after the Bucs' joint workout with the Jaguars on Monday. "I saw him make five out of six (field goals) today."

Indeed, Bucs' Folk-lore will show that during the first practice without Roberto Aguayo, the kicking game was in good feet.

In fact, that might have been the highlight for the team's offense, which struggled most of the hot and humid afternoon. Receivers dropped passes. Others were deflected and intercepted. Protection broke down.

"It wasn't very good," Koetter said. "You draw your own conclusions."

Folk made up for it. Except for an inexplicable shank right, he pumped one football after another into the net that stretched between the goalposts, including a few from at least 50 yards. A few teammates yelped in approval.

Let's review the timeline. On Friday, Aguayo made a 20-yard field goal in the Bucs' preseason loss at Cincinnati. Then he banged an extra point off the right upright and badly pushed a 47-yarder wide right.

Given that the Bucs dealt a third- and fourth-round pick to take Aguayo out of Florida State in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was a little shocking to see him get the quick boot.

But after making a league-worst 71 percent of his field goal tries last year, the end came Saturday morning with the two misses still replaying in Koetter's mind.

On Sunday, Aguayo was claimed off waivers by the Bears to compete with former Bucs kicker Connor Barth.

Jameis Winston, Aguayo's teammate at FSU and perhaps his biggest advocate, said he spoke to his friend shortly after he was released.

"Yeah, I spoke to 'Berto," Winston said. "The one thing about 'Berto, he knows I love him, and I know I told him he's still going to be the best kicker in the game. That's just me being biased and knowing what type of kicker he really is. But at the end of the day, man, you've just got to move on. You've got to move on because this is the NFL.

"We've got business to take care of. We've got to come out here and play some football, man."

Why did the Bucs pull the trigger on Aguayo after only one preseason game? Koetter had lost confidence in him and didn't want the debate over the kicking battle to potentially split the locker room.

"Man, we were rallying around them both no matter what," Winston said. "We weren't playing, 'This is my favorite, that's my favorite.' … You guys are our Buc kickers. The guys up top, they make the decisions. We're going to support you because they're our teammates no matter what."

On Monday, general manager Jason Licht was done talking about the subject. "I just want us to move forward," he said.

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Licht was skewered over the weekend for reaching in the draft last year to get what he hoped would be a generational kicker. Some NFL insiders insist he's being a loyal soldier and taking the hit for a decision made by ownership.

"It is a little bit of a sense of, I don't want to say relief, but we've ripped off the band-aid, and we move on," Licht told Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "We're moving forward.

"What did I learn from this? I've said this before, but when we took him, we essentially anointed him. If I could do it again, I would have gone back and brought in competition to challenge him. I look back on that a lot. Roberto is a great kid, but the magnitude of that position, and the pressure on a 21-year-old — his performance is affecting the lives of men who have families to support. That got tough."

At least the Bucs will save $428,000 of Aguayo's 2017 salary, which will be paid by the Bears, whether he sticks on the roster or not.

In Chicago, Aguayo did not kick for his new team during practice Monday. Barth went 11-for-11 in field goals.

Hav-A-Tampa, anyone?

Contact Rick Stroud at stroudbucs@aol.com.

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