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. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
Similar to the punting battle taking place on Buffalo's roster, the Bills incumbent kicker has faced stiff competition from a new leg. Heading into training camp it looks like the team will ultimately have to decide between power and accuracy. Veteran Rian Lindell has held the Bills kicker position since 2003 and faced offseason competition before, but sixth-round pick is applying more heat than Lindell has ever felt.
"Yeah, it's probably the most [competition] I've had since I've been here, at least to me," Lindell told Buffalobills.com. "(Hopkins) is good. He boots the tar out of the ball, and he can kick field goals. It used to be either you could kick it far, or you're a good field goal guy. Now guys are coming out who can do both, and he's one of them."
Lindell has always been one of those "good field goal guys" with an 81.3 career field goal percentage. That number jumps to 84.3 percent inside 50 yards and 92.8 percent inside 40 yards. From 50 yards and beyond Lindell is 19 for 35 in his career, which gives him a 54.3 percent success rate. Last season Lindell connected on 21 of 24 field goal attempts.
Meanwhile, the challenger Hopkins finished his collegiate career at Florida State with a 78.6 field goal percentage. Hopkins' numbers jump to 81.4 percent inside 50 yards and 89.1 percent inside 40 yards. Hopkins leg strength becomes clear on attempts over 50 yards, where he hit 60 percent of his attempts in his college career, including five out of six as a senior.
The field goal results in spring practices have aligned with the general scouting report on each kicker. Lindell has been the more accurate of the two, while Hopkins has connected from deep but had his share of misses.
The rookie acknowledges that he needs to tighten things up on the field goals.
"Just accuracy, consistency," Hopkins said of what he needed to work on. "It's the typical things, finishing downfield, keeping my hips square. A lot like a golf swing, just trying to fine tune those small things that make you successful."
Golf might be the perfect analogy for these two when it comes to field goals and kickoffs. On one end of the spectrum is Lindell, a solid ball-striker who plods his way through a course by hitting fairways and greens. On the other end is Hopkins, a long driver of the ball who deals with the occasional hook.
The contrast in styles has been most visible on kickoffs. Lindell consistently puts good hang time on his kicks and directionally drops them in either corner inside the 10.
"You can certainly see where you have to be [more focused]," Lindell said of the competition. "It's tough to compete, when he hits [a kickoff] that's 12 to 13 yards deep it's like, well, I better hit my best ball here and just fit in, at least make it coverable."
While Lindell's kickoffs are coverable, Hopkins' have not even been returnable. Over and over the rookie has ripped his kickoffs well out of the back of the end zone.
"I feel like I've excelled on kickoffs," said Hopkins. "Rookie minicamp I maybe hit a few balls I wish I could take back. From there as far as distance and hang time I've been pretty happy with the way that's going."
Ultimately the coaching staff will be giving up something in this decision. Lindell brings consistency and accuracy to field goals and kickoffs, but it comes at the cost of distance. Returns will be made against the Bills if Lindell handles kickoffs. Hopkins can connect from deep and consistently force touchbacks, but there is a clear dip in accuracy. Add this to the growing list of tight position battles that could run all the way through training camp.