Head Coach Jon Gruden stressed Martin Gramatica's impressive history with the Bucs but conceded that placekicking has become a problem
Head Coach Jon Gruden struggled to think of the right word to describe his Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss in Carolina on Sunday, but only briefly. He soon hit on the exact description.
"I guess 'maddening' is the word I'm looking for," said Gruden. "Maddening. Not only to the players, not only to the coaches, but to our fans. You're counting on certain aspects of your football team to come through for you, and clearly it's been a problem."
The Buccaneers have several ongoing issues that have plagued them in the two seasons since their Super Bowl XXXVII victory, including injuries, penalties, ill-timed turnovers and late-game big plays. Perhaps the team's most damaging shortcoming, however, has been an inconsistent placekicking game; that was certainly a deciding factor in the 21-14 loss at Carolina, in which Martin Gramatica missed or was blocked on three field tries of less than 40 yards.
On the season, Gramatica has missed eight of 19 field goal tries, including seven of his last nine.
The time has come to address that problem, says Gruden. The Buccaneers will try out several kickers on Tuesday and could sign a new player at that position this week.
Gruden did not say for certain that the Bucs would sign another kicker, or whether or not Gramatica would retain his spot on the 53-man roster in the event of a signing.
"I don't know what I'm considering right now," said Gruden. "All I know is, I'm considering doing everything we've got to do to improve that aspect of our football team. Clearly, it's been a sore thumb for us this season.
"We're going to bring another kicker in and evaluate who's available. If we can improve our football team, we'll do everything we can to do that. I think the number one thing is, let's address that area of our football team, to see if there is any way possible we can improve there."
The Bucs have been scanning the list of available players for several weeks, ever since Gramatica appeared on the injury report with a hip strain following the November 7 win over Kansas City. The team actually signed another kicker, the Orlando Predators' Jay Taylor, to the practice squad that week but released him the following week when Gramatica proved healthy enough to kick. Gruden says the team's personnel department has 'zoomed in' on a few guys. The Bucs, however, rarely announce players they've brought in for tryouts unless they choose to sign them.
The Bucs would not necessarily have to release Gramatica to sign another kicker, but they would have to release somebody from the 53-man roster. If Gramatica has to cede either his roster spot or his placekicking job at any point, it will be a difficult decision for an organization that has enjoyed so much success as the result of his past kicking heroics.
In fact, the site of Sunday's struggles was also the venue for perhaps Gramatica's finest day as a pro, just two years ago. In a game that would eventually prove to be the turning point in the Bucs' greatest season ever, Gramatica made three long fourth-quarter field goals to kick Tampa Bay to a 12-9 win over Carolina. Memories such as those are still fresh in Gruden's mind, and Gramatica's name appears over and over again in the Bucs' record book.
"You pick up the media guide and you realize what this guy has done as a kicker in this league," said Gruden. "At the same time, in the last year-plus, we have struggled there. He's had injuries. Certainly, it's easy to point fingers when you lose. The kicker is playing an individual game and it's easy to sometimes point fingers when things don't go well. A lot of things have to be considered, and [Gramatica's history] is certainly one of them."
New Injury Issues
The Buccaneers don't post their first official injury report of the week until Wednesday, but Gruden indicated that several key players are likely to be question marks for Sunday's rematch against the Atlanta Falcons.
Among the players who are likely to miss a good portion of the week's practices are quarterback Brian Griese (right hip flexor), wide receiver Joey Galloway (right ankle sprain), center Sean Mahan (neck stinger) and defensive end Dewayne White (right calf strain).
Griese is expected to be 'probable' on that first injury report, but Galloway, Mahan and White will likely be 'questionable.' Galloway and Mahan are starters and White has played extensively at defensive tackle following a rash of injuries to that position. White has been involved in a sack in five consecutive games.
Mahan is already a replacement at center for John Wade, who went to injured reserve with a knee sprain after Week Nine. If Mahan can't play, starting left guard Matt Stinchcomb might slide over from his spot, opening a guard spot for a variety of candidates.
Galloway suffered his ankle sprain late in Sunday's game, though he did return to the field after a short time on the sideline. He is also battling a groin injury from the season opener that promises to linger through the season.
Griese has started the last six games and was recently limited on the practice field due to a sore right (throwing) shoulder he incurred at Atlanta in Week 11. He has started the last two games despite that injury, however, and continued his extremely hot play.
In addition to those players, safety Jermaine Phillips has missed the last two games after undergoing surgery to repair a right forearm fracture.