Special teams, and particularly the return aspect, is a phase of the game that is often overlooked. However, given the right personnel it can be used as a tremendous asset.
The Buccaneers had a revolving door with players filling the role last season, none of which were overly successful.
The disappointing performance, which provided little aid to an already struggling offense, led the team to pursue a return specialist in the latter part of the draft, selecting Utah’s Kaelin Clay in the sixth round.
As a first-team All-American punt returner in college, the Bucs believe Clay can compete immediately for the position next season.
“With Kaelin Clay, he was a guy that we targeted early,” said general manager Jason Licht. “Another fast, explosive guy, (he’s) got a great background in terms of his speed and his production… Right now, it’s his job to lose, combo punt and kickoff returner.”
Following the second practice of rookie minicamp, Clay spoke about the job and his appreciation for the opportunity.
“It means a lot, especially for me,” Clay said. “I consider myself a special teams guy. I love special teams. I think it is one of the most, if not the most important part of the game – the way you can flip the field and get closer to the end zone, the offense has a greater chance of scoring. For me, it’s more so just coming in and just helping the team. I love special teams; that’s what I’m here for.”
Prior to Utah, Clay originally committed to University of California in 2010, a team ironically coached by former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. But due to academic reasons Clay transferred to Mt. San Antonio, where he would play for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. During that two-year span, he was named first-team all-conference with 16 touchdowns, leading the Junior College in virtually every receiving and returning category before transferring back to Division I. In 2014, while playing for the Utes, he averaged 15 yards on 23 punt returns, as well as 24.9 yards on 22 kick returns. His three touchdowns on punt returns last season set a school record and tied for the most in the nation.
But while the the 5-foot-10, 195-pound receiver was selected based on his ability in the return game, he also has aspirations of contributing on offense. After catching 43 passes for 523 yards at Utah in 2014, Clay knows he’ll have to show improvement before fitting his way into Dirk Koetter’s game plan. The best way to do that, however, is by making an impact on special teams. The fifth-round pick has the right mindset and, given his past production as a kick returner, it’s possible that he finds himself catching passes from fellow rookie Jameis Winston in 2015.
“(I’m) also here to play receiver,” Clay said. “But in order for me to get on the field I’m going to play special teams. I know it’s a need that we need, so I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Love this guy’s attitude!
Mayba just Maybe Tampa may finall have their KR guy. I like the article about the new player coaches who does the evualtion on each player Tampa drafted Go Bus
I like it! He knows his role as a return man yet he’s not satisfied with just that. Our rookie class looks very promising. Go Bucs!
His college highlight reel looks good. I hope he can make a new one this year with the Bucs!
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