TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Connor Barth says he never doubted he would kick again for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The seventh-year pro missed all of last season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right foot during a charity basketball game. He’s recovered from the injury and confident he’ll perform as well as ever in 2014.
Barth is the most accurate field goal kicker in franchise history, converting 84.3 percent of his attempts since joining the Bucs in 2009.
He was hurt last summer, shortly before the start of training camp, leaving the team scrambling for a replacement. And while no could have blamed him for questioning whether he’d ever regain his pre-injury form, Barth insists the thought never entered his mind.
"You never want to think like that. I’ve always had a positive attitude. I always feel I can come back strong from things," Barth said.
"Fifteen years ago, maybe yes my career would have been over," he added. "But the technology now, and the way these doctors can do different surgeries, I honestly think it’ll be stronger than it’s ever been."
The former North Carolina standout was headed toward the second season of a four-year, $13.2 million contract when he was injured during a charity basketball game in his hometown of Wilmington. He began kicking again in October and by January rebuilt strength in his right leg to the point he was hitting 61-yard field goals.
Barth made a club-record 92.9 percent of his field goal attempts in 2011, when he hit 26 of 28. He set a team single-season mark with six of 50-plus yards in 2012, and led the NFL with 33 field goals of 40-plus yards over those two seasons.
The 28-year-old said it was difficult sitting out a year ago, when the Bucs struggled to a 4-12 record.
"It was tough. I never missed a game all the way back to high school," Barth said. "But I got a year off to rest my leg. I guess that’s the positive thing out of it."
The Bucs signed Lawrence Tynes as a replacement, but the veteran kicker who helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls never got on the field for a game. He sidelined by an ingrown toenail on his kicking foot early in training camp, then was diagnosed with a MRSA infection in August.
The team eventually brought in Rian Lindell, who had been released by Buffalo, to handle the job.
Barth, who proclaimed he’s "completely healed," is excited to be back on the field during offseason workouts. He also participated in last week’s voluntary minicamp.
He said there’s a positive vibe in the locker room, and that new coach Lovie Smith has a lot to do with it.
"It’s just different around here. I think we’re going to have a good year," Barth said, noting that in six seasons with Tampa Bay and the Kansas City Chiefs he’s yet to be part of a team that’s made the playoffs. "We have a lot of really good players. We’ve just got to put it together."