The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started training camp on Friday with two placekickers on the roster and, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians, a wide-open competition for the job. In March, the Buccaneers re-signed veteran Cairo Santos, who was nine-of-12 on field goals and 17-of-17 on extra points as the team's kicker for the final seven games of 2018. In April, the team used a fifth-round draft pick on Utah kicker Matt Gay.
"It's best-man-wins," insisted Arians on Thursday, the team's reporting day for camp. "With [punter] Bradley [Pinion] being able to kick off, that part's out of it. Matt can kick off, but Bradley, he's excellent at it. So, who's going to be the most accurate guy and who's got the distance to hit that game winner when you're 52 [yards out], or 55, consistently?"
Those words are specifically interesting given what transpired in the Buccaneers' first camp practice on Friday. The team held one field goal period and let Santos have the first audition. That was understandably his right as the incumbent.
"The vet always gets it," said Arians of the opening salvo in the competition. "Matt will get his shot tomorrow. He [made kicks] all the way to the 55-yarder. That was close."
Indeed, Santos got off to a good start. Kicking inside the Buccaneers' indoor facility on artificial turf, he lined up for nine field goals, starting with a 23-yarder and then moving back four yards for each subsequent try. He made the first eight – from 23, 27, 31, 35, 39, 43, 47 and 51 yards – then hit the last one from 55 to the right and a little short. Before the miss, his kicks looked uniform, most of them splitting the middle of the uprights.
Giving Santos the stage for the entire drill on Friday was planned. Gay will surely get his own spotlight in the same sort of drill, apparently on Saturday. The veteran got his shot and set the bar high, though he didn't quite make the longest-range kick. The rookie, who showed off a big leg at Utah, is next.