K Jay Taylor looked good in his previous audition with the Buccaneers
Jay Taylor didn't get a tryout on Tuesday. Then again, he didn't really need one.
Taylor's last audition with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lasted a whole week and left the team with a very good mental image: Two goalposts and one football smack dab between them.
Replacing a kicker of Martin Gramatica's stature might seem to be a complicated process, but it really comes down to that one concept – the ball between the goal posts. Of the 10 kickers the Bucs have tried out in one way or another this season, Taylor most often provided the desired results.
"The ball went through the uprights the most," said General Manager Bruce Allen, who announced Taylor's re-signing on Tuesday, at the same time the team announced that it was releasing Gramatica, it's kicker of the past six seasons. "That's really it. It's not a very complicated position to scout. It's the success rate, it's the power, it's how they kick off and things of that nature."
Taylor is not completely new to One Buccaneer place. On November 10, the Orlando Predators kicker signed with Tampa Bay's practice squad and practiced that very day, as the Buccaneers were concerned about Gramatica's injured hip. As it turned out, Gramatica proved healthy to kick the following weekend, and Taylor was released on the 17th.
Taylor never actually made it to the active roster, but he accomplished what he needed to that week in Tampa: He convinced the Buccaneers that he was a legitimate NFL option.
"Jay got a great audition for an entire week of kicking here and being at our facility and being around our team, and he performed well that week," said Allen. "Over the course of this season we have worked out 10 kickers and he's performed the best of all of them."
Of course, to this point all that means is that Taylor has made more shots into the practice field screen than his competitors. On Sunday, he'll have to prove himself in a more important arena, under the unforgiving lights of an NFL regular season game. If the Bucs weren't convinced that Taylor could handle the pressure, they wouldn't have even considered signing him to replace Gramatica.
"It's tough to play in the NFL," said Allen. "It's been tough for Jon Bradley to play more for Anthony McFarland. But when Anthony got hurt, Jon Bradley has to play. We expect that here, and [replacements] have to play at a good level. We're not just trying to give out letters here. We're trying to win games."
In Taylor's first practice as a Buccaneer, on the 10th, he was nearly perfect at putting the ball between the uprights. He also got decent hang time on his kickoffs and demonstrated impressive range. In other words, he can handle all of the demands of the job.
"When he was here, he had some explosion," said Allen. "The ball came off his foot well. His success rate was good and his kickoffs were very good."
Taylor has worked hard for his first opportunity to kick in a regular season game. He first signed with Miami in 2000 and then had short stints with Buffalo, Seattle and Cleveland. He tried the XFL during its brief arc and has done quite well on the skinny goal posts in the Arena League. In fact, he was the AFL's Kicker of the Year last season with the Predators.
This, however, is the pinnacle of his profession.
"I've got to think he's excited," said Allen. "It's an opportunity, and hopefully it's a great success story that he does well."
Taylor might feel even better about the circumstances of his second arrival in Tampa. Before, he was potentially replacing an injured kicker. Now, he's stepping into a vacancy that will not be filled by a returning player. Taylor is not promised the 2005 job, of course, but he's certainly got a better opportunity than any other kicker to prove to the Buccaneers what he can do.
"When you give anybody an opportunity, the same way Brian Griese got an opportunity, it's what you do with it," said Allen. "We hope he makes the Pro Bowl this year as a kicker. But we'll see what he does. He's got the talent to do it, he just has to do it. As far as the offseason, we would look at free agents at kicker the same way we're going to look at free agents at the other positions."
Perhaps Taylor can make the Bucs' 2005 search unnecessary. By then, he will have hard a very long audition.