Flynn's Focus: What Took So Long?

November 19 – Tampa Bay has never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in their history, but after Sunday's game against Chicago, it looks like the Buccaneers have finally found a legitimate threat in WR Frank Murphy. In this installment of Flynn's Focus, we take a closer look at the Bucs speedy and elusive kickoff returner and ask why it took special teams coach Joe Marciano so long to give Murphy a chance.

Some Buccaneer Magazine readers and visitors might have thought we were exaggerating when we ranted and raved about how good Bucs WR Frank Murphy looked at mini-camp and training camp. Perhaps some of you thought my colleague and Kansas State alumni, editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds, persuaded myself and managing editor Leo Haggerty into believing Murphy was playing better than he was. But if you didn't believe us before, you will certainly lend more validity to observations now.

Murphy returned five kickoffs against Chicago on Sunday and averaged 28.8 yards per return. Murphy's best kickoff return of the game was brought back because of LB Al Singleton's holding penalty. Murphy returned the kickoff near midfield.

Murphy entered the National Football League as a sixth round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. Murphy was an effective running back at Kansas State and was also an outstanding kick returner. While Murphy has been attempting to make the transition from running back to wide receiver since he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in August of 2000, he's been patiently awaiting his opportunity to return kickoffs for the Pewter Pirates.

Special teams coach Joe Marciano has juggled his kickoff return men this season. Marciano's experiment started with rookie CB Dwight Smith, who wasn't the fastest guy on the team, but was said by the coaching staff to have excellent field vision. Smith averaged 22.2 yards per return on 16 attempts before asking to be removed from kickoff return duties after he had obviously lost his confidence to field kickoffs cleanly.

The next contestant on Tampa Bay's kick return team was RB Aaron Stecker, who had experience returning kickoffs from last year. Stecker didn't fare any better than Smith. He averaged just 19.2 yards per return on five attempts and had trouble getting the ball back to the 20 yard line.

Three times/players appears to be the charm for Tampa Bay. Next to WR Jacquez Green, WR Frank Murphy is the second fastest player on the Bucs roster. He fields the ball cleanly, he doesn't hesitate to hit holes and he is constantly moving his feet forward.

Murphy might be the first legitimate threat Tampa Bay has had returning kickoffs in a long time. But there are two questions that remain.

Will Murphy remain Tampa Bay's main kick return man? He better. Unless Tampa Bay feels they can't afford to lose another receiver to injury with WR Karl Williams (hip pointer) out 3-4 weeks and WR Jacquez Green's future uncertain as he recovers from an abdomen injury, Murphy should field kickoffs for the Bucs for the rest of the season. Even if the Bucs feel they can't afford to lose another receiver, one has to wonder if they can afford to keep starting off with such average field position.

The second question is how long will it take for Murphy to go where no Buccaneers kickoff returner has ever gone before-to the opponents end zone? Well, I suspect Murphy will do it sometime this season. He's been close on a handful of occasions and he's well aware of the fact that Tampa Bay has never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 1,522 attempts and counting.

Buccaneer Magazine had Murphy pegged as the Bucs kickoff returner last spring. What took Tampa Bay's coaching staff so long?

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