The one thing that Buffalo Bills fans were able to take solace in over the teams abysmal 2000-10 stretch was that the team had a very strong Special Team’s unit. The ST’s success during that time was in large part to the tireless work of former Bills coaching great, Bobby April, but has unfortunately been followed by several years of mediocrity. The Western New York faithful have come to expect more from the team that features the fastest punter in the game, Brian Moorman. Moorman once tied lightening fast cornerback, DeAngelo Hall in a 40-yard dash at the Pro Bowl and has at least been one bright spot on an otherwise boring unit.
However, over the past couple of years the team has been working very hard to fill out their special teams unit and really help winning the field position battle. The team drafted place kicker, John Potter, in the last round of the draft, and the kid can quickly come in to take over the kickoff duties, as current kicker Rian Lindell does not have a strong enough leg to consistently get touchbacks.
Buffalo also got a lot deeper at the linebacker position through the draft, by selecting guys like Florida State’s Nigel Bradham in the fourth round and TCU’s Tank Carder in the fifth round. The duo will likely have to make a living on fourth down to start their careers, but could end up seeing starting time towards the end of their contracts. The unit will also be returning last year’s rookie standout, Da’Norris Searcy. The defensive back gets down the field like a bullet and his 218-pound frame allows him to layout opposing returners.
The only question remaining is which player will return the few kickoffs that allowed under the new return regulations. The new NFL rule changes make the return game almost non-existent, so each kickoff or punt return is more important then the next. Buffalo currently has more quality returners then they know what to do with. The team will need some of these young players to step up, especially with the departure of former returner, Roscoe Parrish. The loss of Parrish will allow more balls to go around, so look for some new faces in the backfield for the opening day kickoff.
Lets take a quick look at the current return men on the roster:
RB/WR C. J. Spiller – Spiller remains one of the most dynamic players on the Bills’ roster; with 9 kick returns, 13 punt returns, 39 receptions, and 107 rushes.
WR T. J. Graham – The rookie who has 4.3-speed will instantly bolster one of the all-around fastest special teams’ units in the game.
QB/WR Brad Smith – The Bills’ signed a big four-year, $15 million dollar contract to bring in Smith because of his return skills, but he averaged a very disappointing 18.8 yards per return. This number is less then the yardage he would have gotten from the touchback.
CB Justin Rogers – The corner out of Richmond lead the team in 2011 with an impressive average of 28.7 yards per kick return in his first season.
RB Johnny White – White is a special team’s coach dream player. He is fast, elusive, and can hit.
CB Leodis McKelvin – McKelvin scored an 80-yard score last year versus the Denver Broncos late in week 16, and he was the only player to return a touchdown on the team.
CB Terrence McGee – McGee did not return any kickoffs last season, due to some nagging hamstring and knee injuries. DeHaven expects McGee to be back at 100 percent this year, so expect the veteran to get a little time returning kicks in 2012.
The Bills special teams unit is really looking to make a difference this year. They are very fast, confident, and more importantly very young. Special Teams often get pumped up by having a strong defensive unit in front of them, and the Bills have spent a lot of money this off-season doing exactly that. Look for Buffalo to be back amongst the top third of the NFL on special downs in 2012.