"We need to cover better. Obviously, we need to kick better. Extra points, field goals. We need to kick better. I thought Shane [Lechler] punted pretty well today. We need to understand on the sky punt situation, how to guard the goal line and down punt inside the five yard line. We need to cover better, keep leverage on the ball better, get off blocks better. We need to improve there."
— Texans head coach Bill O'Brien on special teams following Bucs game on Sunday
On the surface, reading Bill O'Brien's assessment of special teams as an innocuous quote on a transcript page, it looks like a fairly benign, painfully accurate assessment of an area that has been a negative for the Houston Texans thus far this season. Special teams play has been anything but special in nearly every area — returns, coverage and placekicking. The only bright spot, as O'Brien points out, is the performance of future Hall of Fame punter Shane Lechler.
However, if you were to have listened to O'Brien's comments live, you'd have heard that the part where he passive-aggressively talks about placekicking without mentioning Randy Bullock's name (in bold above) was said with an extra amount of disgust and disdain sprinkled in. On Sunday, Randy Bullock drilled the upright on a very makeable 43-yard kick that would've given the Texans the lead and momentum before the half. Later in the game, he missed an extra point that would've given the Texans an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
As we know, fortunately for the Texans, neither kick came back to bite them on Sunday. They won the game 19-9. In many ways, that game was a microcosm of Bullock's career as a Texan — missed kicks at seemingly treacherous junctures in games, but none treacherous enough to where you can pin direct blame on Bullock for the end result, good or bad.
As rudimentary as this sounds, you can tell a lot about a kicker's effectiveness by how his fan base feels when he trots out onto the field to make a kick. And quite honestly, I don't think Texans fans would trust Randy Bullock to kick a rock off their porch, much less make a tension-laden field goal at a critical juncture in an NFL game. And now, if there is a wit's end for Bullock and his employer, it appears Bill O'Brien is just about there.
Following Bullock's shaky game on Sunday, it was reported by Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle that the Texans will be bringing in five kickers for tryouts today:
Texans' kicker tryout Tuesday per sources: Kai Forbath, Chris Boswell, Connor Barth and Nick Novak— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 29, 2015
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Texans also trying out former Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio per sources— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 29, 2015
Now, to be clear, just because the Texans are bringing in kickers for tryouts doesn't mean Bullock won't be kicking on Sunday for the Texans. The team has been down this road before with Bullock. During his abysmal first year as a starter in 2013 (26 for 35 on field goals), the Texans brought in three kickers for tryouts midway through the season after a particularly bad spate of misses from Bullock. Ultimately, Gary Kubiak chose to stay with Bullock.
The odds are pretty good that this is more of a "Final Notice" to Bullock to get his shit together than it is a virtual pink slip. But for the first time during the O'Brien era, Bullock appears to be veering dangerously toward being one of the guys trying out for teams every Tuesday than being one of 32 starting kickers getting a regular paycheck.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.