Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Special Teams Contribute to First Win of 2022

Punter Jake Camarda showed off a strong leg in his NFL debut and was helped by a coverage team, including K.J. Britt and Cade Otton, that impressively neutralized a dangerous Cowboys return man

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense was more efficient than explosive in Sunday night's season-opening win at Dallas, and red zone struggles kept the score from being more lopsided. The defense was stifling, now allowing any Cowboys drive to get any closer than Tampa Bay's 32-yard line and pitching a shutout after Dallas's game-opening field goal march. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers' special teams may not have been the difference in the outcome but it more than held up its end of the bargain.

That included the debut work of punter Jake Camarda, Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick in this year's draft. Camarda had a relatively relaxing first half as the Buccaneers didn't have to punt once before the intermission, leaving him to handle kickoffs and be the holder on field goals. He did punt three times in the second half, however, and showed off a very strong leg. His first NFL punt went 63 yards and ended up in the opposite end zone for a touchback. His other two punts had enough hang time to force one fair catch and one three-yard return, neutralizing dangerous return man KaVontae Turpin.

"I thought he did a great job booming down the field," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "I thought we covered them very well. Again, they've got a dangerous return man; I thought the gunners and the interior men did a great job, kickoff team as well. He can put it out there and he can boom it, but when he does that we need to make sure we cover it and they did that this week."

Camarda and the Bucs' coverage teams appeared to struggle in the preseason, finishing the three-game slate ranked 24th in opponent punt return average, 29th in opponent kickoff return average and last in net punting average. However, as Bowles explained at the time the coaches were asking Camarda to punt in a way that invited returns and were cycling through a lot of gunner candidates. On Sunday, cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Dee Delaney were the punt gunners and they were part of a strong coverage effort. Bowles credited the coaching trio of Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong, Defense/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Specialist Coach Chris Boniol for getting those units ready to play for the regular season.

"They put in a lot of effort. Coach Armstrong and Keith and Chris Boniol do a great job. They do a great job teaching those guys. And it's mostly effort. It's effort and want-to – having speed is even better. But they did a good job getting downfield and forcing some fair catches."

Camarda finished the night with a gross average of 50.7 yards per punt and a net average of 43.0 yards. One three-punt outing is far too small of a sample size to know if Camarda will continue with that sort of success, but to provide a comparison for how that level of performance measures up in the NFL the league leader in gross average last year (the Raiders' A.J. Cole) came in at 50.0 and the leader in net average (the Cowboys' Bryan Anger) finished at 44.6.

Camarda also handled kickoff duties and hit five of his six kicks into the end zone. Two resulted in touchbacks, and when Turpin did choose to run it out he didn't get far, averaging 19.3 yards on four returns. Second-year linebacker K.J. Britt set the tone early with a fantastic open-field stop of Turpin at the 14-yard line on the game's opening kickoff.

Britt finished the game with two stops on special teams and rookie Cade Otton had a strong special teams debut with two tackles and an assist. Meanwhile, second-year wideout Jaelon Darden fielded four punts cleanly (one a fair catch) and got at least nine or 10 yards on each of his three returns. Kicker Ryan Succop provided 13 of the Bucs' 19 points by hitting four field goals and an extra point. He did miss one 36-yarder in the second quarter but also hit from 47 and 44. It was an overall strong performance by a special teams crew that has undergone a lot of change this season. Had the game been closer, it could have meant the difference between victory and defeat.

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