Solomon Patton, a rookie wide receiver out of Florida, is being rewarded for his sharp effort on special teams in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. The first-year pro impressed with his speed and hands and is listed as the No. 1 punt and kick returner on the Bucs’ recently released depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
Patton is the Bucs’ leading punt and kick returner in the preseason. He has returned four kickoffs for a team-high 122 yards, averaging 30.5 yards (33 longest), and three punt returns for 32 yards (10.7 average).
“I think things went great,” Patton said of his performance against the Dolphins. “I just try to take advantage of every opportunity that I can get.”
Head coach Lovie Smith noted the improvement he has seen in Patton’s game.
“The land of opportunity,” said Smith. “I’ll go all the way back to when he first stepped out at One Buc Place – he dropped a lot of balls. But he’s really caught the ball well, and he’s got great speed and quickness. So, we’re pretty excited about giving him the opportunity, and I thought he got better and better each punt return. You know, small guy but likes to hit it up in there. Impressive opening game for him.”
Patton is no stranger to success in the role. In his senior year at Florida, Patton set a school record with a 29.2 kick return average and was the Gators' team MVP in 2013. His career kickoff return average of 27.7 yards on 38 returns is also a school record for players with 30 or more returns.
“At Florida, I caught punts in practice but I never did it in the game, nothing like that,” Patton said. “Since day one that I got here, I’ve made sure every day that I was out early, and even after that, catching punts just focusing on looking the ball all the way in. I think I did a good job of doing that Saturday, also.”
“Going to Florida and playing in the SEC, I played against a lot of big time players,” he said. “It’s really the same. Just coming in just like a freshman all over again. You’re just coming in trying to learn (the) offense, learn the speed of the game, and that’s pretty much it."
The 5-foot-9, 173-pound Patton, a Mobile, Ala. native, signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent following this year’s NFL Draft. He caught 44 passes for 556 yards and six touchdowns and also carried the ball 16 times for 71 yards as a senior with the Gators during the 2013 season. His exploits weren’t enough to earn him an invite to the NFL Combine.
He impressed during Florida’s Pro Day in March, however, catching the eyes of scouts from the Bucs who stayed late to run Patton through kick and punt return drills.
“I worked out for them and talked to them a few times,” Patton said. “I kind of built somewhat of a relationship over the whole process. That’s pretty much what it came down to and I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to come in and fight for that position at returner. Obviously, I would love to play wide receiver. I’m just trying to make plays the best I can and get that chance.”
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