BY IRA KAUFMAN
For too long it was a running joke at One Buc Place. Only something was wrong – it wasn’t funny.
Tampa Bay’s mad search for a reliable kicker to replace Matt Bryant seemed to end in 2020 when Ryan Succop helped the Bucs win a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Succop made 28 of 31 FG attempts during the regular season and closed the Super Bowl scoring with a 52 yard run against the Chiefs.
But just when Buc fans had nothing to be ashamed of, Succop finds himself in danger of losing his job before he turns 36 in September.
Jose Borregales, a 24-year-old Venezuelan kicker who won the Lou Groza Award at the University of Miami in 2020, is intent on overthrowing Succop, which is coming off a tough season.
The problems started at the start of training camp 2021, where Succop struggled. He kept his job but failed on five FG tries and five extra point attempts last year. Twice he was placed on the COVID-19 list.
“Competition makes you better,” said Succop, the last player selected in the 2009 draft. “We’re all competitors and I can’t wait to be there. José is a great boy. He is very talented and he has a very bright future in this league.
Succop is no stranger to challenges.
As Mr. Irrelevant, he hit 86% of his FG tries as a rookie with the Chiefs. Moving to Tennessee in 2014, Succop established himself as one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. At one point, he converted 56 straight FG attempts from within 50 yards before missing a 48-yarder against Cincinnati in poor weather.
A knee injury all but destroyed Succop’s 2019 season in Nashville. He appeared in just six games and was ineffective, so the Titans cut him in the offseason. Given a fresh start in Tampa, Succop saw the Bucs go 29-10.
“It’s been an incredible two years here, winning the Super Bowl and racking up a few wins last season,” he said. “In 2019, I certainly went through adversity, but I was able to defend myself and obviously found myself in a good position. It turned out to be a huge blessing.
Between Bryant’s release in 2009 and Succop’s signing as a relatively cheap free agent, the Bucs went through enough kickers to field a football team. Do you remember Connor Barth, Mike Nugent, Shane Andrus, Rian Lindell, Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo, Patrick Murray, Nick Folk, Chandler Catanzaro, Cairo Santos and Matt Gay?
You can’t make this stuff up. And the motley list doesn’t even include Lawrence Tynes, who was signed in 2013 but never played a game for the Bucs after contracting MRSA and suing the franchise.
It won’t be easy for the Bucs braintrust to ditch Succop in favor of an unproven kicker. In the past two playoffs, Succop has made 12 of 13 FG tries and 19 of 20 extra point attempts. The problem is that Borregales has the stronger leg, and the Bucs got to see him up close while he was on the practice squad last season.
Succop’s lack of range can be a hindrance. In his last 39 regular season games, Succop is 1 for 4 for 50 or more yards, going 50 against Green Bay in 2020.
Borregales and began his college career at Florida International, dazzled Coral Gables fans with a 57-yard drive against Louisville in only his second game at UM.
No one was more stunned that Borregales didn’t get drafted than former Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz.
“As soon as Jose walked in the very first time we did a spring placement drill, he nailed one through the uprights and the whole team erupted in applause,” Diaz said. “It’s a confidence factor in how you call plays when you cross 50. It’s a confidence factor when you come into tight games.”
New head coach Todd Bowles will make the final call to One Buc Place in consultation with his staff and Jason Licht. Bowles will trust what his eyes see and what his gut tells him.
“I think I had a solid year,” says Succop. “It’s a kick… you have a fun-shaped foot hitting a fun-shaped ball. Once in a while, things happen. The key is not to let the previous kick influence the next one.