The Facts: New HC Lovie Smith puts a premium on special teams play. He’ll be happy to know, then, his chances of having a premier place kicker for 2014 appear to be increasing. Barth has spent his winter slicing up the air with kicks that surprised even him to a small degree. He started hitting regularly on field goals in the 50-yard range in early January. Then, just last week, he hit a 61-yarder that had a few yards to spare. “In the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty much feeling like I did last year before I got injured," Barth said. "I’m back to 100 percent.”
Diehards Line:Barth ruptured the Achilles tendon on his kicking foot while playing in a charity basketball game near his hometown last July. And despite some legitimate concerns about his ability to return, his progress is good news for the Bucs. Forced to scramble for a kicker after losing not only Barth but also Lawrence Tynes (MRSA infection), they settled on veteran Rian Lindell, who finished the year ranked 26th in the league in field goal percentage. If healthy, Barth could put the Bucs back near the top of the league in that category. With an 84.3 percent conversion rate, he is the most accurate kicker in team history. And those 50- and 60-yarders he’s been making this offseason are no fluke. Prior to the start of last season, Barth’s 33 field goals of 40 yards or longer, which include eight from 50 yards or more, were the most of any kicker in the league the previous two years.