19 - 3 ways changes on special teams will help most

Posted Jul 9, 2017

Buffalo's special teams reloaded this offseason. A new kicker, a host of returner candidates and a new approach to teaching special teams in practice all figure to pay dividends this fall.

Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.

While the Bills have had a busy offseason to say the least, they have improved their special teams unit and here are three changes that should help the most.

Depth at returner
Having solid depth at any position is always a positive and the Bills appear to have some at the returner position. Not only do they have depth, but experience as well. Having a good return unit is crucial in today’s NFL; it can change the game in one play.

While the competition for the starting return man will boil down to training camp, the names on the list are quite impressive. All of the prime candidates have filled the primary return role at some point in their careers. WR Brandon Tate, DB Micah Hyde, CB Tre’Davious White and WR Rashad Ross make for a deep group.

“Having the ability of guys like Micah hyde, who has done the true primary player in poor conditions in Green Bay, to have a young rookie come in like T. White who had great production at LSU… the more guys you have that have that ability, based on the course of the game, If we’d been playing a game this spring, you may have seen two maybe three guys on the field as a punt return group based on situation because they all have great abilities to handle the pressure,” said special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. “They’ve done it in big games and a lot of times they’ve done it in poor environments, weather wise.”

Veteran kicker Steven Hauschka
This offseason, the Bills chose to move on from Dan Carpenter, whose game had become too unpredictable. They signed veteran kicker, Stephen Hauschka to a four-year contract. Hauschka is best known for his time with the Seattle Seahawks where he was their starting kicker from 2011-2016 and he even helped them win a Super Bowl in 2014.

Hauschka has proven that he can still play at a high level. In 2016, he was a Pro Bowl alternate by coaches and players. Throughout his career, he has converted 87.2 percent of field goals with his longest coming from 58 yards.

The kicker also brings versatility. He has experience kicking field goals, and is effective on kickoffs. That is something that not every kicker can do as evidenced by Hauschka’s predecessor in Buffalo.

“We have complete confidence in Stephen and some of his things are different than Dan’s. What we look at and what we’ve had, in terms of discussion with Stephen, we feel great as an organization of his abilities to be an outstanding performer both on PATs, field goals and kickoffs here in Buffalo and in the rest of the division going forward,” said Crossman.

Blending in the special teams unit during practice
Throughout the OTAs and mandatory mini-camps, the Bills have been blending in their special teams unit with the offensive and defensive units on the field. When an offense versus defense team period reaches fourth down the special teams comes on and executes the play required regarding the field position, be it a punt or a field goal attempt.

Most NFL clubs just have specific segments of practice devoted to special teams separately. Coach McDermott’s design however, not only reps the special teams plays, but forces them to execute it under game-like conditions.

“Coach has been outstanding,” said Crossman of head coach Sean McDermott. “He’s given us good time both in the meeting room and on the practice field. Those periods throughout the course of the practice is ideal because that’s how the game is played. You’ve got to be able to transition from your offensive or defensive position to the kicking game and then after you have to transition back to offense or defense. That’s the ideal way to do it in my opinion and fortunately coach agrees.”

Special teams segments of practice have also been noticeably longer than with previous Bills head coaches. It is a definitive signal to the players how important special teams is to the staff.

“That’s what makes it so nice with coach McDermott,” Crossman said. “Number one he makes the players understand the value of what it’s going to take to participate on special teams and then to be right there with you in the meetings, on the practice field… I may have the first punt team in the huddle and he’s got the second team on the side and he’s talking to them about what’s going on and making sure they’re paying attention. When that’s coming from the top it’s invaluable for me.”