The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play their preseason home opener Friday night against Cleveland, and all the talk is about kicker Roberto Aguayo.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This is the most important game of the preseason with the starters expected to play into the second half.
You probably won’t seem them in their preseason finale, but you will hear about Aguayo again.
The Bucs’ second-round pick in this year’s draft has become a national story all for the wrong reasons.
So instead of talking about Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and his counterpart from Cleveland, Robert Griffin III, and Tampa’s latest injuries on the offensive line, it’s Aguayo time.
He missed two field goal attempts last week against Jacksonville after missing an extra point the prior week. Some fans who showed up at practice this week and heckled him when he missed three of six field goal attempts.
The Florida State product made all of his attempts inside 40 yards out in college, though he was 23-32 on kicks 40 yards and longer.
Bucs GM Jason Licht called him the best kicker in the history of college football after drafting him in the second round in a move that sparked criticism because of a belief you just don’t draft kickers that early.
Aguayo didn’t need that kind of endorsement, though Licht might have said it to justify his pick.
Aguayo is searching for answers. He talks frequently to Billy Miller, special teams coordinator at IMG Academy and former kicker who has a lot of experience. He also coached Roberto’s younger brother, Ricky Aguayo, now a freshman at FSU.
“I kind of just tell him (Roberto) to relax and have fun with it and enjoy the moment and be in the moment,” Miller says “Just having fun with it taking his time, he has his own sound bites of what he will say before a kick.”
Miller says not to worry, dispelling rumors that Aguayo was desperately seeking out anyone to help him. Miller was an assistant coach for the Bucs under the Greg Schiano reign and coached under Schiano at Rutgers, where he focused on all aspects of special teams.
Miller still lives close to One Buc Place and says he and Aguayo talk frequently.
“He sounds great. We have a lot of laughs and inside jokes. He is not depressed. He seems like the normal Roberto to me,” Miller says. “He might be feeling pressure on the inside but when we talk on the phone it’s really light; We just focus on technique.”
Miller has personal experience with slumps. He kicked four years at Delaware Valley State and had a bad sophomore season because he said he tried to kill the ball. But he finished his last two years strong.
“I just tell Roberto to take it one kick at a time. Don’t make it bigger than what it is,” Miller says. “He has been kicking footballs a long time and played in big games and won big games and made big kicks, so just go there and kick the ball.”
Miller doesn’t buy into the theory that getting selected in the second round has put too much pressure on Aguayo.
“I don’t think the pick has anything to do with it. Once you walk into the facility you are just one of 90 guys going to do your job,” Miller says. “He just has to focus on his task and look at every kick as another opportunity. It’s a couple of things technical, nothing too crazy, nothing he hasn’t experienced before. He just needs to relax and kick the football.
“Fans love you and then they hate you, but they are going to love that kid once he gets ready. I think he’ll make it.”