Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bryant's Struggles Concern Bucs
HOUSTON - After all they've been through with their quarterback, top receiver and right guard, it's the kicker the Bucs appear to be most worried about as the regular season draws near. With two more misses in the Bucs' preseason finale at Houston on Thursday, the usually reliable Matt Bryant finished the preseason with five failed field-goal tries in four games. The misses included two tries of 36 yards and one of just 23 and for Coach Jon Gruden they are already conjuring painful memories of the kicking funk that resulted in Bryant's signing in the first place. "I've been through this," he said, referring to the two-year funk in which Martin Gramatica missed 18 of 45 field-goal tries. "And I don't want to point fingers, but it was very, very painful."It was also very, very costly. The Bucs combined to win just 12 games while losing 20 during that 2003-04 stretch and after being pinned as one of the primary culprits of that drought, Gramatica was released. He has been bouncing around the league ever since and may have found a home, interestingly, in New Orleans, where the Bucs are scheduled to play their opener on Sept. 7. It may be asking a lot but the Bucs are hoping Bryant can break out of his slump before then, because there is no question that with their offense ailing a bit, they need him. "We need him to be our leading scorer just like every other kicker is in this league," Gruden said. "He's got the talent and certainly he can get it done. I have confidence he will." That confidence is based not just on Bryant's track record (he's made 83 percent of his tries since joining the Bucs in 2005) but on the way he finished that game in Houston. After missing first on a 54-yard try and then on a 36-yard try, Bryant bounced back to make three field goals of 40, 29 and 31 yards to finish the preseason 7-for-12. "He came back pretty well," said Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia, who, along with Bryant, appears to have narrowed the problem down to a mechanical flaw on kicks from the right hash mark. Bryant said the problem is simply one of follow-through, although he admitted to jamming himself on at least one of the two misses he had this preseason from more than 50 yards out. Bisaccia said Bryant has been working hard in practice to correct the flaw, but one of the flaws of the NFL is that few teams have kicking coaches to help a kicker get out of a slump like the one Bryant is in. No one on the Bucs' staff has kicked an NFL field goal so Bryant is pretty much stuck having to work himself out of this slump on his own. "I don't want to talk to Bryant about kicking," Gruden said. "I don't know much about it really. I try to kick myself and I can't even express how bad I am. "But I've got a lot of confidence in this guy; more than maybe he knows. I think he's going to be just fine. But he knows we desperately need that job done."
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.