The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' special teams units have been excellent in many phases of the kick-and-return game in 2010. Robert Malone now has the opportunity to make them even better.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers announced the signing of Malone, a rookie punter out of Fresno State who originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars this spring. Malone replaces a fellow rookie, Chris Bryan, who was released after four games with the Buccaneers.
Malone's signing marks the second time the Buccaneers have made a move at punter since the end of the preseason. The team originally signed Bryan, a former Australian Rules Football player, on September 6 and at the same time released rookie Brent Bowden, its sixth-round draft pick in 2010.
Malone was released before training camp by the Jaguars, who stuck with incumbent Adam Podlesh. But Malone drew NFL interest after a strong career at Fresno State that included an outstanding senior campaign in 2009. He displayed a very strong leg for the Bulldogs as well as an ability to place the ball inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Malone (6-2, 215) was a first-team All-WAC selection last year after punting 44 times for a 45.2-yard average, with 17 of his kicks downed inside the twenty. He also blasted 15 punts of 50 or more yards, including a long of 69. In his collegiate career, Malone played in 41 games and punted 120 times for 5,117 yards with a 42.6-yard average and 44 punts inside the 20.
Bryan, who hails from Australia and previously played in the Australian Football League, spent the preseason with the Packers, where he battled for the punting job with rookie Tim Masthay. After Masthay won the competition, Bryan landed in Tampa and assumed the Bucs' punting job on opening day.
In four games, Bryan punted 23 times for 860 yards, compiling a gross average of 37.4 yards per kick. He hit seven punts inside the 20 and posted a net average of 34.3.
Though the Buccaneers are statistically among the league's best in such special teams categories as field goal percentage, opponent field goal percentage, punt coverage, kickoff coverage and opponent kickoff drive start, their gross punting average ranks 31st in the NFL and their net punting average ranks 28th. The Bucs hope the addition of Malone will help them improve in those categories, as well.