K Jay Taylor had reason to smile during a strong week of practice with the Buccaneers
Jay Taylor has a rather apt analogy for those who wonder how he can head into his first NFL game without a significant case of performance anxiety.
"It could be something like a doctor," said Taylor, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new placekicker. "You wouldn't expect a doctor to go into a surgery and be nervous about it because he has done it in the past. He wouldn't go in wondering, 'What happens if I fail?' That just doesn't register.
"I think that is how my mindset is. I don't really feel pressure. It doesn't come into my head what happen if I miss or I do badly. If I do miss, I allow myself maybe a minute or two to think about it, then it's done. It doesn't matter."
In other words, kicking is his job, and he's got a lot of experience, like a veteran surgeon.
And we'll buy that. But here's the thing. While the physician may not be nervous heading into surgery, you can be sure the patient is. Taylor indeed seemed to be improbably cool and collected all week after signing on Tuesday, confident he could excise what has been ailing the Bucs' kicking game for two seasons. Tampa Bay fans, however, will likely remain edgy in placekicking situations until they see the ball consistently going through the uprights again.
Those in the middle, Taylor's fellow Buccaneers, have only one way to approach it, and that's to mirror their new teammate's confidence.
"We want him to know that if the ballgame falls on his foot that he has his team behind him," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, the team's veteran pace-setter. "It is my job as a leader to try to make him feel as comfortable as possible. That is just a responsibility I have."
Taylor has made it easier on Brooks and the rest by nailing every kick in practice and demonstrating a willingness to work hard at his craft. Rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton, who recently had his own indoctrination into the league, with spectacular results so far, believes dedication and confidence can take you far at any position.
"From what they tell me about the new guy, he's a hell of a worker," said Clayton. "He works hard. He's already mingling with the guys, so he already feels like family. I think he will be just fine."
For many years, the Bucs felt the same way about Martin Gramatica, the kicker Taylor replaced this week. Gramatica's 2003-04 struggles were practically inexplicable, and most around One Buc Place expect their former kicker to rediscover his stroke in the NFL eventually. But the team has moved on and will now throw its full support behind Taylor. The former Arena League standout feels certain he will prove worthy of that support.
"I have never felt pressure out there," said Taylor. "Kicking is something that I have done for the past eight years, so it is not going to be anything new. It will just be the same as kicking any other ball. I can't really say that for a fact because I haven't really been out there, but I know in the past, it's just routine. It feels natural."
Taylor's confidence was only one topic being discussed in the locker room this week. Below are some additional thoughts from Tampa Bay players on a variety of subjects.
LB Derrick Brooks on the Bucs losing games in the final minutes: "You have to finish. We are in the opportunity to make a play where we give more pressure early; we have to take advantage of opportunities early in the ballgame. To really score touchdowns and convert turnovers that's all we have to do. Last week's ballgame was not lost on the last play. We had other chances in that ballgame to come away with a win and we did not."
DE Greg Spires on the early yardage the Bucs gave up to the Falcons last time: "If we could just pick it up from the third quarter we would be alright. We just have to start faster and not fall so much at the beginning of the game."
T Derrick Deese on facing Atlanta just three weeks after a loss to the Falcons: "It doesn't matter when it happens. When you lose to a team and you get the chance to play them again, that is fine. It does not matter when it comes, you are just happy it's here."
Brooks on having a rematch against Atlanta so soon: "It makes it easy but it does make it tough. They are looking at the same tape we are looking at. They are also feeling like that if they do things a little different or play a little better than that increases their chances of winning and try going out there and starting faster."
WR Michael Clayton on whether playing Atlanta just a few weeks ago helps him better prepare: "I think maybe it is going to be a little more pressure. I think, myself, as a receiver was underestimated in that game, definitely, going against another rookie, one of my peers, one of my good friends [DeAngelo Hall]. It is going to be a more intensifying challenge for myself going against that guy. It definitely lets you know ways that you can prepare to execute earlier in the game. Hopefully, it lets you get some big plays earlier in the game."
QB Brian Griese on strategy changes between two teams who recently faced each other: "We've been playing for 11 weeks now and we do a lot of the same things every week. It's the fundamentals of our offensive football team that we're going to play each and every week, regardless of who we play. We're going to do those things; we're also going to have some wrinkles for them and they're going to have some wrinkles for us. But when it all comes down to it, it's going to be our 11 guys against their 11 and we're going to do what we do best and they're going to do what they do best and see who wins."
Spires on making changes in the game plan after the last Falcon game: "They are going to throw something at us that we have not seen. They look at film also. I am sure they have something up their sleeves."
Clayton on whether the Falcons are a big rivalry for the Bucs: "Oh, definitely. You definitely have to be in tune to the rivalry or you can get hurt. You definitely have to be prepared to defend yourself at all times. You never know what is going to happen. I was able to catch on really quickly to the rivalry. Definitely, when you go up to block somebody, they are trying to fight you back. You always want to stay focused at all times."
Deese on being 4-7 and only being one game out of playoffs: "You could not have told me that at the beginning of the year that I would be 4-7 and still have a chance at the playoffs. The fact that I still have a chance at this is something to keep pushing for."
G Cosey Coleman on whether the team still feels there is a shot at the playoffs: "If you look at the NFC, it is wide open, with the exception of Atlanta and Philadelphia. Everyone else is kind of lumped up in the middle as far as their records. Everyone else is one or two games from each other. As long as there are one or two games left, we have an opportunity to make it to this tournament, because once you make it to the playoffs, everyone is 0-0, regardless of what you did during the regular season. Once you make it to the tournament, everyone is on a level playing field. That is our goal right now. We are just trying to do what ever we can to get ourselves into the playoffs."
Griese on if he's surprised that the 4-7 Bucs still have a chance: "Yeah, it is surprising. In this day and age, with free agency and the parity in the league, this is what they wanted. It is what it is. We're going to take our chances and try to come out and get back in the race."
Brooks on Atlanta winning nine of 11 games: "The thing about it is that you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have throughout the ballgame. They are playing good football going down the stretch, believing they can win, whether it means getting the ball back like they did last week on defense. You can back that by playing every play. Really every time you have a chance to score a touchdown or get a turnover you have to take advantage of it so it does not have to come down to final moments of the ballgame. Right now they are making those plays. If we are in that position we have to close it out. We cannot allow what happened to us last week to creep back up on us again"
Deese on whether it wears on a team to be told it has to win every week: "Of course it does, it always does. It is real frustrating. It is a frustrating thing. It is part of the job though. If we were winning it would be a lot easier and then everybody wants to talk and everybody wants to smile in front of the cameras. When you are losing guys do not want to speak but at the same time it is part of your job. At 4-7 you have to have the next game. That is just facts. When we were 0-4 we had to have the next game. That is just way it is."
WR Michael Clayton on the offense needing to score more touchdowns and rely less on field goals: "I came into the huddle [and said], 'Let's not depend on the kick to win this game,' and that was my mentality. I can only imagine the other guys' mentality. You never want it to happen, but you must always know that if it does come down to it you have confidence in your kicker that he can get it done as a Plan B. We have been in that situation a couple of times and sometimes we haven't been able to execute. As an offense, when you are put in that position, you definitely want to take it all on yourself and put it all on your shoulders to get it done."
Bidwell on the responsibility kickers face: "I'll tell you what, a lot of time nobody knows if the tackle missed the block or pulled the wrong direction. But when we don't do our job well, everybody knows about it. We know that. It's one-and-out for us and it's a difficult situation. A lot of guys do it very well, and that's what sets up how difficult the job is, even more so, because you see guys do it well over and over again and it looks easy. You just want to try to make it look easy, and that's what we do."
K Jay Taylor on how much of kicking is mental: "I think a lot of kicking is mental. Everyone out there has the ability to perform at almost any position. To be mentally tough is key. Everyone has talent. Everyone is good. I compare it a lot to golf. You look at golf, it's hard to distinguish the talent between golfers, but a lot of it comes down to mental. Are you mentally tough to handle all of the different situations?"
Brooks on the loss of Martin Gramatica: "I had the chance to talk to Martin and wish him well. In this business those things happen. That is one of the sides of our jobs that people do not realize is that we go from week to week being employed. That is a reality that we face being in this business. At the same time I look for Martin to bounce back. He is down right now but again he is a very good football player and I do not expect him to be out of work for too long."
Griese on Martin Gramatica: "You know, I really feel for him. It's a tough thing. I hope that he can rebound, and I know that he will. There's no doubt that he can play at this level. He's been a great kicker before and I think he'll be a great kicker again. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Hopefully the pressure will be off him a little bit now. Somebody will pick him up. We haven't seen the last of Martin, and I wish him the best. I think he's a great guy. But now we have somebody here that we've got to support, and we'll go forward."
Bidwell on helping Martin Gramatica take the news of his release on Tuesday: "It was tough. The writing was on the wall for a little while, and he knew it. I kind of felt bad. I had gone through that my rookie year, where I was kind of on the brink of losing my job. It was really a hard thing to go through mentally. I just kind of shared what I was doing and took perspective in life to talk about some of the things I had gone through and what's really important. I helped him out a little bit. He's very professional and he cares a lot about this time and cares a lot about kicking. It was painful for him, but at the same time he understands. It's the nature of the business."
Taylor on what he has learned on his road to the NFL: "One, to be humble. Another, just wait your turn. There are a lot of things you don't have control over. The only thing you really have control over is your performance. Over the years, I have just gone out and done my best and let the pieces fall where they may. It has been frustrating over the years, but it is part of the business. I have really learned how it works and how difficult it really is to get into a regular season game."
Taylor on what kept him going: "Determination, confidence. It was a dream of mine, a goal, something I felt I could accomplish when I first started kicking. One of the reasons I started kicking was to see where it could go and one of the goals was to play in the NFL. I have been so close and got good feedback from people. It was just something I wanted to see through."
Taylor on what else he did on his way to the NFL: "I bartended once. It wasn't bad, except it was high volume, a lot of people, but that didn't last too long. Various landscaping things. Helping people out. Nothing too serious. I had gotten some job offers, such as a financial consultant. Normal jobs. Throughout the years, I thought maybe it is time to move on and think about that, but I was never able to bring myself to get a quote-unquote normal job."