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Making special teams coverage look Easley

Posted Oct 25, 2013


He never thought tackling in the NFL would be his forte. In fact, Marcus Easley has always been the one being tackled, but that hasn’t stopped him from emerging as a league leading gunner on Buffalo’s kickoff and punt coverage teams with 13 special teams tackles.

His teammates have even dubbed him ‘Eazy’ for his ability to make bringing the ball carrier down look easy.

“He’s played extremely well on special teams, and he can do a lot of things whether it’s in the return game or in coverage. He’s very physical for a receiver,” defensive back Jim Leonhard said. “He’s not afraid to make a play. He’s not going to go down there and be safe. He goes down there to make plays, and he does that a lot.”

Easley, however, never would have predicted being Buffalo’s top gunner when he was drafted in 2010.

“I got drafted to be a receiver, and that’s what I assumed my role was going to be,” Easley told BuffaloBills.com. “Right now my duty is to be a special teams guy.”

After dealing with injuries early in his career, which impeded his addition to a 53-man-roster, Easley says he appreciates his playing time and he’ll put forth his best at any position.

“If I’m a gunner, I’m trying to be the best gunner I can be. If I’m a receiver, I’m trying to be the best receiver I can be,” he said. “You’re going to get my all no matter what position it is.”

Easley has singlehandedly led Buffalo’s kickoff coverage. According to StatsPass, across the league the average number of times special teams units have held opponents behind the 20-yard-line is five. Buffalo is tied with San Francisco for first in the NFL with 10 stops behind the 20-yard-line.

Of Buffalo’s 10 holds behind the 20-yard-line, Easley is responsible for six of them. He’s made one kick return tackle in each game minus the season opener, and he’s never allowed an opponent past the 20-yard-line. On average, he’s held his opponents to the 14-yard-line.

“I’m a bigger guy, which you normally don’t see at that position, so I use my size and my speed and try to get physical with those guys when the time calls for it,” Easley said.

He said the skills he’s learning will help him in his dual role on the offense, but some wide receiver concepts help him excel at kickoff coverage.

“Especially at the beginning of the play at the release, it goes hand in hand with playing receiver,” he said. “Defeating a DB, attacking him and getting off the ball. A lot of it correlates, a lot of it overlaps. Tackling is definitely the biggest challenge.”

Although the team is ranked seventh in the NFL for kick coverage, it is ranked 28th for punt coverage. Despite that, Easley’s coverage for the punt team has been nothing less than stellar as well.

In eight punt coverage stops, he’s allowed his opponents 4.1 yards per return. Easley attributes part of his success on punt coverage to his ability to close the space quickly between himself and the returner.

“It’s definitely deceptive I guess because I’m more of a strider, I’m not really a natural speed guy,” he said.

Although he’s proud of his success, Easley sees a lot of room for improvement for the team’s punt coverage unit.

“I think it’s just accountability, it’s on everybody. It’s myself; I haven’t made every tackle up to this point,” he said. “So I’ve got to make those plays down the field. I’m sure at times it’s been on the punter, I’m sure other times it’s on the inside guys.”

The fix, as Easley sees it, is simply a better all-around effort by everybody whether it’s technique or just making a play when the opportunity presents itself.

Leonhard, who also plays on special teams, said it’s a necessity for the team to clean up its punt coverage.

“It’s not like we can say we’ve got the wrong guys out there or we don’t have the right personnel. That’s not the case. Every kick is different,” he said. “If you get one or two guys who make a mistake on a kick it can be out the gate.”

As Leonhard sees it players like Easley will shine even more once the team corrects its punt coverage.

“It’s all attitude,” said Easley. “At receiver I feel like nobody can stop me, and at gunner it’s the same mentality.”