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Nick Folk brings experience to Bucs' kicking battle

Nick Folk (2) and Roberto Aguayo (19) are pictured during training camp Monday at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Nick Folk (2) and Roberto Aguayo (19) are pictured during training camp Monday at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Aug. 1, 2017

Nick Folk has a new look for training camp this year, but he's gone through this before.

As an annual tradition, the 32-year-old kicker prepares for the start of another season by shaving his head, and the buildup to his first Bucs camp was no different.

"I've had my hair short for the most part since sixth or seventh grade," Folk said. "I met my wife, and when we got engaged, for the wedding, she wanted me to grow it out, so I agreed. Every offseason now, I grow it out 'cause she wants me to. I cut it short — even with the little bit of hair I have, it's a lot cooler. I keep it short for the season."

Folk's wife, Julianne, even posted a video to Twitter last week showing their three young children taking turns as laughing, holding-their-heads-in-disbelief barbers, taking an electric razor straight up the middle of their father's hair.

But straight up the middle has been Folk's look for 10 years in the NFL. His 2016 season was very much like his last few years with the Jets — he went 27-for-31 on field goals, an 87-percent success rate that tied for ninth-best in the NFL. But Folk was due to make $3-million in 2017, and the Jets — not likely to be a field goal away from many wins this fall, projected to go 1-15 by USA Today — released him with several other veteran players, opting instead to sign former Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro for $900,000.

Folk is now competing to beat second-year Bucs kicker Robert Aguayo, the NFL's least accurate field-goal kicker in 2016 at 71 percent, having been replaced for the Jets by Catanzaro, who tied for second-least accurate last season, hitting 75 percent and missing two field goals in a 6-6 tie with the Seahawks.

From the first week, it looks to be an amicable kicking battle — both went 4-for-5 on kicks Sunday by coach Dirk Koetter's scoring. Asked if the fact that Folk got to go first was a small indication of an early lead, the veteran went out of his way to say that's not the case at all.

"We just rotate. We rotate days, rotate even in walkthroughs. It doesn't matter," Folk said. "It's every other, and at the end of the preseason, we'll have the same number of kicks in practice. It might be plus or minus one either way, but that's the way it's going to go. That's how we've done it all spring."

Perhaps the Bucs' most high-profile camp competition pits Folk's experience against the potential of what the Bucs had hoped Aguayo would be when general manager Jason Licht traded up into the second round to draft the former Florida State standout a year ago. Folk has scored 1,052 points in his NFL career with the Cowboys and Jets. No Bucs kicker has ever scored more than 592 (Martin Gramatica).

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Licht's short history as a general manager, however, has been to opt for youth over experience at kicker — in 2014, he chose first-year kicker Pat Murray over veteran Connor Barth; in 2015, he traded for rookie Kyle Brindza over Barth, only to swap them a month later. Last year, the Bucs had invested enough in Aguayo that he had no competition on the roster.

This year, he does, and the Bucs gave Folk $750,000 in guaranteed money when they signed him, so they've invested in both sides of this competition, leaving it more as a battle to be won and lost on the field, in practice and more likely in four preseason games. Folk, old enough to have beaten Dirk Koetter's Arizona State team when he was at Arizona in 2004, likes the way his new home feels.

"Young team, a lot of energy," he said, running his hand over the stubble on his head. "Great guys in the locker room. We've got a good rapport. I couldn't ask for a better situation for myself and my family. It's been a good start."

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