Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th
Push the Envelope. That was the mantra of Bills former special teams coach Bobby April. He preached it to his specialists every week and practiced what he preached. Whether it was pooch kicking in a tight game to force a turnover, creating an avalanche onsides kick play that has since been outlawed by the league or using Brian Moorman as a passer on fake field goals. April considered anything and everything as an option if it had a chance to help produce wins on Sunday.
But nothing lasts forever and the Bills begin a new era of special teams with a coordinator every bit as proven in Bruce DeHaven, who put Buffalo's special teams on the NFL map. How things will change on special teams for the Bills is the big question under different leadership.
"I think subtle changes are what you can expect," said DeHaven. "I don't think your personality changes and I've always believed in working from the part to the whole and start simple, be fundamentally sound. I'm probably a little more conservative in my approach than some special team coaches. You're probably not going to see a whole lot of onsides kicks and wild reverses and fakes and that kind of thing as you would some other coaches in the league."
With the talent DeHaven inherits on special teams he may not need to be aggressive at all.
"It doesn't make a difference where you go or who you follow you want good players. If you've got good specialists you've got a chance," DeHaven said. "If you have a good snapper, a good punter and a good kicker you've got a chance."
Buffalo's special teams coordinator clearly has that in the most accurate kicker in Bills history in Rian Lindell and one of the best punters in a generation in Brian Moorman. Add in a promising snapper in young Garrison Sanborn and the foundation is very much intact.
"Brian is one of the better punters in the league no question about it," said DeHaven. "He's very versatile. He can drive the ball for distance if you get backed up. He can hang it up there high if you have a returner you're trying to take out of the game. He's very quick with the ball which helps your protection. He's got good hands and an excellent athlete.
"I think that Rian has really developed since he's come into the league. His accuracy has improved from his first year in the league and he's done a nice job with that. He's also an above average kickoff guy."
Where DeHaven believes his kicking units will have the biggest advantage is on their home field.
"The thing that I like about them is they've kicked in this stadium for some time," he said. "Kicking at Ralph Wilson Stadium is a little different than playing in other stadiums because of the wind and the elements. So if you have guys that have been here before that gives you a leg up."
But Buffalo's special team coordinator also has a bounty of return talent to choose from with the likes of Leodis McKelvin, Roscoe Parrish, Chad Simpson and top pick C.J. Spiller all accomplished return men with game breaking speed.
"If you have great returners you've really got something because you can make a difference in that area for your team," DeHaven said. "There are just not very many holes, even the coverage guys. There are some excellent specialists (here)."
With all of that talent DeHaven's admitted conservative approach is likely to go unchanged because when you have the kind of playmakers Buffalo has on their roster, drawing up the extraordinary isn't necessary.
What separates one special teams unit from another in a league where the line is finer than ever is playmakers and the likes of McKelvin, Moorman, Parrish and Spiller are likely to make things happen with a little help from their teammates.
"We've got good players here," said DeHaven. "You'd always rather be someplace where they have good players."