TAMPA — The Bucs are seeking a spark after a 1-5 start. It could come on the opening kickoff Sunday, when Tampa Bay fans might get their first look at return specialist Trindon Holliday, who joined the team Wednesday.
Since the start of the 2012 season, including playoffs, Holliday has an NFL-high six touchdowns on returns — three on punts, three on kicks — while the Bucs and five other teams have none in the same span. With track-star speed in a 5-foot-5 frame, Holliday gives Tampa Bay a scoring threat the team has lacked in recent years.
"He's one of those guys that can make a difference in a game instantly," said receiver Russell Shepard, a college teammate of Holliday's at LSU. "All he needs is one touch. A lot of guys around here say (former Bucs RB Jeff) Demps is the fastest guy they've played with, but Trindon is the fastest I've ever played with. I look forward to watching him."
In signing Holliday, the Bucs waived rookie Solomon Patton, a former Gators receiver who had handled all return duties in the first six games, and passed over Eric Page, who handled returns last season and is currently on the practice squad. In both cases, the big-play rewards never came — Patton's longest kickoff return in 17 attempts was 28 yards, a low among NFL players with 10-plus returns.
"We haven't gotten enough out of our return game up to this point," coach Lovie Smith said. "Better play, simple as that. When you're not satisfied, you look to the returner first. That's what we did. … It was an easy decision for us."
Holliday had his six returns for touchdowns in a span of 13 games from 2012-13 with the Broncos, including becoming the first player to return a punt and kickoff return for scores in a playoff game. Signed by the Giants this spring, he was limited by a hamstring injury and waived off injured reserve two weeks ago, working out for the Colts and Bears before signing with the Bucs this week.
"He has a track record," said Smith, not in reference to Holliday's 2009 NCAA championship with 10.00 seconds in the 100 meters. "Great quickness and speed. For the guys that have been blocking, (they're) pretty excited knowing if they can just get in front of their man, give him an opportunity, we can do something. We're trying to score points any way we can."
Holliday has had problems with fumbles; he has had 11 in his career, though just three have been recovered by opponents. He mentioned that Patton hadn't lost any fumbles this season, so his game has to start there before he can make any step forward with long returns.
"I just want to come in and try to give a spark to special teams," said Holliday, who will wear No. 11 for the Bucs. "You have to take care of the ball, and me, I think I bring a nice return game, being able to make the first guy miss, get vertical and get going."
Bucs coaches are accustomed to strong play on returns. Smith had one of the all-time greats in Chicago with Devin Hester, and special teams coach Kevin O'Dea saw his players get an NFL-best four returns for touchdowns last season as an assistant with the Chiefs.
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The Bucs haven't had a return for a touchdown since November 2010 — only the Redskins have gone longer — and a signing like Holliday could be a major step toward ending that drought on special teams.
"We feel comfortable in him catching the ball, and from there, he's a tough guy to tackle in the open field," Smith said. "If he gets a crease, very few guys can catch him. I think that's a good start."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.