Matt Gay probably made a few new friends in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room on Friday, and that's a very good thing indeed for an NFL rookie.
On Friday, the Buccaneers held the last of their 10 allotted organized team activity days (OTAs) and actually wrapped up practice about halfway through the original two-hour schedule. That was thanks to Gay, who coolly nailed a 50-yard field goal inside the team's indoor facility to earn his teammates' early exit.
With the first preseason game still more than two months away, this was one of the few ways in which Head Coach Bruce Arians could turn up the heat on the team's fifth-round draft pick.
"That's about the only way we can put pressure on a kicker this time of year," said Arians. "So you put it back there at 50 and the OTAs are over if you make it. If not, we've got two more periods."
Arians, who has consistently praised his new team's practice efforts over the three weeks of OTAs, actually considered cancelling Friday's practice entirely. However, he felt there was still a little more work the Bucs needed to get done before they convene next week for the three-day mandatory mini-camp that will wrap up the offseason program. After that, players and coaches will have about seven weeks off before starting training camp.
"I think we accomplished everything that we set out to accomplish this OTAs [period]," said Arians. "I like where we're at; obviously we need a lot more work. We're not a finished product by any stretch. Like I tell our guys, 'We're not the Bucs right now. We won't be the Bucs until we get down to 53. There are 90 guys looking for a job."
That includes Gay, who will battle incumbent veteran Cairo Santos for the Bucs' kicking job. Tampa Bay continues to search for a long-term solution at the spot after many seasons of upheaval; the Bucs have had a new kicker to start every season since 2013 and in have gone through more than one in some of those campaigns. Gay, who was selected 145th overall in the 2019 draft, is a former college soccer player who started a new athletic endeavor at Utah just two years ago, one that went spectacularly well. In his two seasons as the Utes' kicker he made 56 of 65 field goals and all 85 of his extra-point attempts. He won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best collegiate kicker in 2017 and was a finalist for the same award in 2018.
The strong-legged Gay also was true on eight of his 11 field goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond at Utah. He showed off that big leg on Friday and, more importantly, did it with at least a little more pressure than a typical practice kick. And he helped the team finish OTAs on a high note, keeping his head coach in a good mood, too.
"So far, so good," said Arians. "It's just a matter of the tempo in which we practice is different, the way we practice is different, the two fields, getting everybody on film – the guys acclimated extremely well to it and I was really pleased. You couldn't ask for any more effort or enthusiasm…maybe better execution, but we'll get to that."