LS Andrew Economos wants to help the Bucs form one of the elite kicking units in the NFL
Glance over a roster sheet or the practice field at Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp and you'll have no problem finding the quarterbacks or the wide receivers. That's five throwers and 11 catchers, often working together, always quite visible.
It's a little more taxing, however, to locate the team's lone long-snapper, whether you're reading the roster or scanning the field. Andrew Economos, a third-year player out of Georgia Tech is the only man on the roster with the "LS" designation. And while other position players train as a unit, Economos spends the majority of practice as the lone pupil for Dwayne Stukes, the Bucs' special teams quality control coach.
Still, plenty of work is getting done, even if it's not in the spotlight.
"Every day we'll work on footwork, protection, snapping and reading the fronts," said Economos. "We also work on just being physical and staying in shape."
Economos does spend some time snapping to punter Josh Bidwell, who also serves as a holder for kicker Matt Bryant on field goal attempts. And of course he takes on a more prominent role whenever the entire team is practicing punts or placekicks.
Economos can relate with Bryant and Bidwell, two men who also single-handedly occupy entire lines on the Bucs' depth chart. Those three share another bond: their desire to make the Bucs' kicking team an elite unit in the league. . "Special teams is my baby," Economos said after a recent practice focusing solely on the kicking game. "Josh, Matt and I really work hard to make this the best special teams group in the NFL. So, we all come out here, especially on special teams days, and put it to the grindstone and make sure we do what we need to do to get better."
This shared drive to be the best has forged a close bond between Economos and his kicking buddies, one founded on trust and reliability. Economos and his more veteran teammates – Bidwell is in his ninth NFL season, Bryant his seventh – share admiration and encouragement with one another.
"Both of those guys make my job easier," said Economos. "They put a lot of confidence in me which in turn gives me a lot of confidence in myself."
Just as his own task of holding for Bryant's placekicking efforts is an underappreciated art, Bidwell knows that Economos' talent is rarer than most people realize. Bidwell knows that his young teammate has to work constantly to maintain his edge.
"Long snappers aren't thought of as hard workers or stellar athletes but you're not going to find a harder worker than Andrew Economos on the team," said Bidwell. "I appreciate that and I know the guys up front with him appreciate that."
The relationship between Bidwell and Economos also relies on a commitment to improvement.
"We're real honest with each other," said Bidwell. "We challenge each other. We tell each other when something doesn't go as smoothly as we wanted it to."
Three designated special teams practices were built into the training camp schedule before it began, the last of which will take place Thursday morning. In addition, every regular practice includes several periods devoted to some aspect of the kicking game. These are fast-paced, intense sessions in which Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia works his charges hard in an effort to make that phase of the game a strength for the Buccaneers.
Individually, Economos is working to improve his snapping accuracy and to record more tackles after punts; he had one kick-coverage stop last year. As a group, Bryant, Bidwell and Economos have a solid base to build on. In 2007, Bryant set career highs in points scored (118) and attempts made (28). Bidwell averaged an outstanding 43.9 yards per punt and set a career best with 30 kicks inside the 20. And Economos started all 16 regular-season games without causing any catastrophes with a bad snap.
According to Bidwell there is about 1.3 seconds to execute both a punt and a field goal, so making a swift exchange is paramount. "It happens so quickly that if he's not in rhythm and getting me the ball where it needs to be I'm going to be out of rhythm or Matt's going to be out of rhythm," said Bidwell.
The pressure to get off a perfect field goal is only intensified when the outcome of the game hangs on that kick. Economos says that he loves taking the field as the final seconds melt off the clock , as he doesn't feel any added pressure.
"Pressure is always going to be there in any play in football, more so at the end of games if the game's on the line," he said. "But I approach it like, 'I've done this a million times.'"
If Economos' snap estimate sounds like hyperbole, keep in mind that he has been snapping since the first time he stepped on a football field.
"I started on a 90-pound Pop Warner football team when I was in fourth grade, and the whole team I tried out for punter, kicker, snapper," he said. "That was the first year I ever did it, the first year I played football and I've been doing it ever since."
At Marist High School in Atlanta he also played defensive end and linebacker. After being accepted to Georgia Tech, Economos was contacted by the Yellow Jackets' coaching staff about walking on as a long snapper. "That's all they wanted me to do from day one (was long snap) and I stuck it out for five years," said Economos who started all thirteen games in each of his last three years with the program.
Economos recognizes he has come a long way from that first snap as a fourth-grader. The 2005 undrafted rookie free agent exemplifies a humble athlete, continually pointing out how lucky he is to play in the NFL.
"If you can't get out there and look around and see that you are so blessed to play this game and have fun on a field like that then you shouldn't be out there," he said.