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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chase McLaughlin Looking to Put In "A Good Round" in Kicker Competition

As Chase McLaughlin and Rodrigo Blankenship continue to battle for the Buccaneers' open placekicking job, the competition is more like two golfers working to beat the course


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp kicker competition has been billed as a "head-to-head battle" between Chase McLaughlin and Rodrigo Blankenship, as if they are two boxers tapping gloves before the opening round. From McLaughlin's point of view, he and Blankenship are more like golfers put together for the final pairing of a tournament. There may be a psychological aspect to playing side by side, but neither one's shots will physically affect the other's efforts.

"In this league – whether you're competing with someone inside the building or outside the building – it's always going to be competing," said McLaughlin as the Buccaneers finished up their third week of camp. "For me, personally, it's kind of like the game of golf: you're competing against yourself and the course more so than anything else. As long as I know that I put in a good round at the end of the day, good things will come."

The Buccaneers will have a new kicker for the first time since 2020 after releasing steady veteran Ryan Succop in March. Succop had a strong three seasons in Tampa, most notably a perfect postseason during the Bucs' four-game run to the title in 2020, but he was not providing much range with his field goals by 2022. The team's first move in the effort to replace Succop was to sign McLaughlin, who was coming off a solid season in Indianapolis and has made 17 of his 21 career kicks from 50 yards and beyond.

After the draft, the Buccaneers also elected to sign Blankenship, another former Colt, thus forming the competition that is taking place now. He and McLaughlin are familiar with this particular setup; they competed for the Colts job in the summer of 2020, trying to replace long-time Indianapolis standout Adam Vinatieri. Blankenship won the job that year, but last season he was replaced after one game by…yep, McLaughlin. The two obviously know each other well and have no problem working on the same field for the same job again. There have only been a few misses between them over the past three weeks.

"It's been going [well], it's been a great competition," said McLaughlin, who noted that both kickers made field goals from beyond 60 yards during OTAs and have succeeded from 58 yards out during training camp. "Rodrigo is a great guy, a great competitor. We've both been hitting them well this camp, so I'm feeling good about it."

During field goal periods in practice, the two kickers generally take turns with a set of four field goal tries from increasing distances. In the preseason games, the plan has been to have them alternate kick by kick, which is how McLaughlin ended up with two extra point attempts and Blankenship with the lone field goal try last Friday against Pittsburgh. All three kicks are good, with the extra points covering 33 yards each and Blankenship's field goal hitting from 35. McLaughlin says the set up for the competition devised by Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong has worked just fine for him.

"Yeah, Keith has been doing a great job," he said. "We've been alternating each kick. I personally don't really have that much of a preference, as long as we stick with something – define a plan and stick with it, that way I can prepare. It makes it the most similar. Throughout a game, you know when a kick is coming up when the drive starts to develop, so yeah, either way is fine with me."

Blankenship has played 22 of his 24 games so far with the Colts. McLaughlin has played 20 games for Indy but has also had regular-season stints with the Chargers, 49ers, Jaguars, Jets and Browns. While they've both had plenty of kicks in domes, they've faced the elements, too. McLaughlin had played two games at Raymond James Stadium before joining the Bucs, one each in college and the NFL. He's had no trouble adjusting to the weather in Tampa, which does occasionally include some strong winds.

"[I have] just been refining the details, trying to get good, consistent contact each time," he said. "[I'm] trying to play the wind and I feel like I've gotten a pretty good grasp of it here. I've kicked in some windy places before so it's nothing new. [I'm] feeling good about it."

McLaughlin has kicked in Buffalo and Green Bay and he definitely got familiar with strong winds while playing at the University of Illinois. Buc fans of a certain vintage will understand how hard that can be. In the final regular season game of Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl season, the team played a game on the Illinois campus while Soldier Field was being renovated in Chicago. The Bucs won 15-0 on a December Sunday night, with the wind howling incessantly and always in the same direction. All 15 points came on Martin Gramatica field goals, all kicked with the wind at his back.

McLaughlin likely won't encounter that kind of wind resistance in Tampa, but the Bucs do play in Green Bay in December. Whether the job eventually goes to him or Blankenship, that kicker will be asked to overcome some obstacles to hold onto it. First, though, he will have to overcome his competitor, and that means beating the course first.

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