K Todd France performed well in training camp with the Buccaneers this summer
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled the trigger on their kicker backup plan on Saturday, signing Todd France to the active roster off the practice squad. To make room for France on the 53-man roster, the Bucs released first-year tight end Nate Lawrie.
France has handled all of the team's kicking duties in practice this week while Matt Bryant has rested an injured right hamstring. Bryant, who is 15 of 18 on field goal attempts this season, sustained the injury on the opening kickoff against Chicago on Sunday. He finished the game and kicked several more times but has not tested the leg this week.
The signing of France does notnecessarily mean he will be kicking in this weekend's game against the New Orleans Saints in Baton Rouge, as Bryant remains on the active roster, too. However, it gives the Bucs an option on Sunday and indicates that Bryant's status is still up in the air.
Though unhappy about the possible absence of Bryant, the team could hardly ask for a better insurance policy than France, who proved himself to Buccaneer coaches with a strong training camp and preseason. While battling Bryant for Tampa Bay's job this summer, France made all four of his field goal tries in preseason games, including shots of 46 and 49 yards. He also did well in a three-game cameo with Philadelphia in October, replacing an injured David Akers.
"We feel good because we know him and he's a good kicker," said Gruden. "He was 100% in the preseason, he made six of seven for the Eagles and he's a good kickoff guy. So we are fortunate that way. But you don't like to lose your kicker, either, so you've got to temper your enthusiasm."
As it turns out, it was a hazardous week for kickers in the NFL. Several struggled near the ends of close games on Sunday and, in addition to Bryant's injury, the Arizona Cardinals may be without their kicker Neil Rackers due to a calf injury suffered in practice. France was probably on the minds of several general managers this week but he is pleased to be with the Buccaneers.
"It's good to be back here," said France. "It's always good to be on a team in the NFL somewhere; it's better than sitting at home. But it went well here [this week]. It definitely helped that I was here in training camp and the offseason. Josh Bidwell and Dave Moore do a great job of snapping and holding, so I don't have to worry about that."
France started the week off with a perfect performance on Wednesday and stayed on target throughout the week. He strengthened the team's confidence in him should Bryant be unavailable on Sunday.
"I thought he did well," said Gruden. "He's kicking the ball really well. He's a good kicker, he just needs an opportunity, I think."
Bryant is one of five players on the Bucs' official injury report this week, and one of four considered questionable for Sunday's game. On Thursday, tight end Anthony Becht (knee) was upgraded to probable.
There were no changes to that injury report on Friday, but two more players returned to practice. After sitting out the Wednesday and Thursday sessions, safety Will Allen and defensive end Dewayne White were back in action. Allen is trying to return after missing two games with a knee injury, while White tweaked a hamstring in practice on Wednesday and subsequently took it easy over the next two days.
Linebacker Marquis Cooper remains questionable with his chest injury and did not practice on Friday.