Training camp is dialing up to a fever pitch, and we’re one day away from seeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off against someone other than themselves. One of the biggest surprises to me throughout the offseason hasn’t been the acquisition of a player, but rather the retention of two.
Back in December of 2014, I looked at who would survive the long path to the 2015 season. There were two men I definitely singled out and was convinced wouldn’t make it. The Buccaneers were plagued with offensive line problems, and Gilkey seemed like a lock to evaporate into thin air.
Meanwhile, this was my final word on Michael Koenen. “I wish you the best in your future endeavors Mr. Koenen, but I’m ready for you to be punted clear out of Tampa Bay.” Here we are, and look who’s still here. It’s looking like both Gilkey and Koenen will remain with the Buccaneers moving forward into 2015. What changed?
If you want to look closer at Garrett Gilkey the man, click here to see an excellent article done by the “Ginger Badass” Mark Cook of Pewter Report. As for Michael Koenen, he received strong praise here from kicker Pat Murray in an interview with Chris Fisher of Bucs Brief. Why did they survive?
Why Did He Survive: Garrett Gilkey
It’s no secret that Garrett Gilkey played poorly in 2014, but for a brief moment let’s look back and remember just how poorly. When it comes to opportunity, Gilkey was given plenty last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilkey took 145 snaps in 2014.
Among all 146 ranked guards on PFF, Gilkey settled in at 119 based on overall performance in 2014. Sounds pretty damning, but fellow Buccaneer Patrick Omameh ranked even lower. Then again, there were all those penalties, remember? Gilkey was the king of the false start, it seemed.
Except, according to NFLPenalties.com, Gilkey was fifth in overall penalties behind even Demar Dotson and Anthony Collins. Gilkey had three false starts on the season, Collins had three, and Dotson had four. The numbers don’t make Gilkey seem as definitively horrendous as the general public’s opinion did.
Instead, Gilkey had the uncanny ability of making mistakes in the worst moments and making them extremely memorable to fans. That’s how you turn everyone against you, and it seemed to worsen on a weekly basis. Gilkey has versatility as a player, and he’s shown a sincere effort throughout the offseason to genuinely improve.
Training Camp hasn’t helped his case, as he’s already made significant mistakes at practices, but all Gilkey has to do is perform on gameday. It’s that simple. If he takes the field in preseason and shows a true improvement, he’s earned his spot. I don’t see Gilkey reaching Pro Bowl form anytime soon, but he absolutely has the potential to stay. Will he? He’s got four games to prove himself.
Why Did He Survive: Michael Koenen
Between the two, I was a heck of a lot tougher on Michael Koenen. Normally you wouldn’t think that a punter would get a lot of attention, especially with a team that had so many other glaring flaws. With such a poor 2014 season, as a fan you try to find any glimpse of hope.
You know the team is nearing rock bottom when you’re looking for positive vibes from the punter. Due to the horrendous nature of the offense last season, Koenen saw the field more than a punter usually would. At 79 on the season, he was ninth in the league for most punts taken. Contrary to Gilkey, the numbers still aren’t in Koenen’s favor.
Koenen is second to last in overall performance in 2014 according to PFF, and comes in dead last for average yards per punt at a measly 39.9. The fact about Koenen that’s easily overlooked, and entered almost nobody’s thought process in 2014, is his role as holder for Pat Murray.
We’ve all sung the praises of Pat Murray, and it fits considering he’s fifth overall on PFF for kickers when ranked by their performance on field goals and extra points. Murray was 20 for 24 on the season for field goals, including making five of six field goals of 50 yards or more. He also easily made all 31 extra points he attempted.
Murray has called Koenen the best holder in the NFL, one of the best in the NFL atkickoff, and guaranteed we’ll see a new Michael Koenen in 2015. On the surface, Koenen is a punter. His jobs as a holder and performing at kickoff are important, but he needs to get back to being able to do what he’s technically on the roster to do. My hopes are tempered, but Koenen very well could be on the road to redemption. IfJameis ever lets him punt, that is.
The verdict from me at the end of 2014 was that both of these men wouldn’t last, and there was a lot of validity to that opinion. I also know I wasn’t the only one with it. The preseason begins tomorrow, and now the real test begins. Will Garrett Gilkey and Michael Koenen continue to survive?