Who is this guy?
Yes, the Bucs took a kicker in the fifth round, but it happened to be a kicker that they had as the best prospect at the position in the draft. Utah’s Matt Gay is known just as much for his big leg as he is for his accuracy, a combination you don’t see too terribly often. He won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s best kicker, in his first season with the Utes in 2017. He earned the award after a season that saw him go a perfect 40-for-40 on point-after attempts and make 30 of 34 field goals on the season, his long being a 56-yarder.
He followed up his first season with another perfect record in extra points, going 45-for-45 this time in 2018. He also made 26 of 31 field goals, the most of any kicker in the country. He was responsible for a total of 253 points during his two-year Utah career and owns an 86.2 field goal percentage in that span. He earned two consecutive consensus All-American honors as well as being named All-Pac-12 in both his years in the conference.
Prior to becoming a kicker, Gay played soccer for Utah Valley College, where he led the team with seven goals as a freshman. He played one season at kicker for his high school’s football team, hitting a long of 54 yards.
I got a chance to see Gay at the East-West Shrine Game this offseason and even made remarks on him in my standouts from the week of practices. Gay nailed the only field goal in the game itself (a 47-yarder) but in the week of practices he was drilling 60+ yarders like it was nothing. There was a buzz around this guy that week. His kicks echoed in the Trop (ok, ok so does everything) and you couldn’t help but pay attention. He also attracted glances because of his size. He’s a big kid with a big leg and that’s what the Bucs like about him.
What are they saying about him?
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht:
“He’s a big guy with a big leg and he’s also accurate. Those are a lot of good things that we like about him. He kicks in Utah but he’s also good at sea level. He can kick it far at sea level as well. We liked him as a person and we think he’s a very confident guy. We’ve exhausted everything we can to try to find a kicker and we’ll continue to, like every other position.”
“He’s got a strong leg. Usually, those strong-legged guys that can kick it from a far distance have some accuracy issues. This guy has not so far.”
Kicking coach Chris Boniol:
“My history in coaching, when I was in Dallas, it’s always been go get a free agent and let’s make the best of it with the most competitive guys you can get. That is a luxury. I think it speaks of his ability and his potential. There are some things I like about him. He’s got good size, good strength. He’s played in elements. Playing at Raymond James Stadium, there is the element of wind, everybody talks about. There’s rain. And when you have wind, there’s a few key things that you have to do. You have to strike the ball pure, you have to have a good ball strike, good rotation, but you also have to have some velocity to get the ball through the uprights before the wind has a chance to affect it. So, having a little juice in your leg is an important factor. I like the fact that he’s played in elements and he’s a big, strong kid.
What can he do?
Yeah, so I’m not going to pretend to know how to breakdown kicking mechanics. Even Boniol said in his press conference that his job as a kicking coach in the NFL isn’t about teaching guys how to kick – it’s about teaching them how to be a pro and being more of a mentor than anything. Gay has hit some special kicks though in his career and below are a few of them. He broke the Pac-12 record for most kicks made in a single season in the first video during the Utes’ bowl game. He had a total of 30 that season.
The next season, he tallied the most field goals in the country again but fell short of his record set the year before with 26. He did, however, earn Special Teams Player of the Week in the below video in which he starts by nailing a 49 and 48-yarder back-to-back. And makes it look easy.
How can he fit in?
Gay was brought in under a head coach who knows kickers. Bruce Arians’ son Jake was an NFL kicker, so I’d like to think this family understands not only what makes a good kicker, but what kind of person you need to be to be successful at the NFL level. It seems that’s what they saw in Gay. General Manager Jason Licht said it’s still a competition between Gay and Cairo Santos, who came in the middle of last season to help the Bucs’ kicking woes. This staff wants to breed competition at every position, including on special teams. It’s the same sentiment Boniol mentioned in his press conference as well. The two will ‘kick it out’ in training camp this summer and we’ll see who ends up winning out.