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.
For a second straight season an incumbent Bills punter faces stiff offseason competition. Through OTAs and mandatory mini-camp, 2012 starter Shawn Powell and 2013 free agent signee Brian Stahovich have been neck and neck in a surprisingly tight and entertaining competition that will carry over to St. John Fisher when the Bills take the field for training camp. With just one roster spot available, the question is which man will be booming punts into the winds of The Ralph come September?
Powell is no stranger to competition, having endured an offseason battle last season with veteran stalwart Brian Moorman that lasted to the final day of cuts. Although Powell originally lost out, the Bills brought him back just three and a half weeks later to take over the starting job.
"In this business you're going to have good punters and I was lucky enough as a rookie coming in going up against Brian Moorman, who has been top in the league for a long time," Powell reflected. "It really taught me to do what got you to where you're at. Don't try to overdo it and don't try to impress.
"In this business everywhere you go there's going to be stiff competition."
In 13 games, Powell hit 65 punts for a gross average of 44 yards and dropped 23 inside the 20. His net punting average, a more respected mark among special teams coaches, was a respectable 38.1. This offseason Powell has displayed a huge leg, hitting punts with unofficial hang times of five seconds.
While he may not pack quite the same level of firepower as Powell, Brian Stahovich has impressed with his accuracy and consistency. Stahovich was one of five tryout players to sign a contract following the team's three-day voluntary minicamp, and he has been putting the pressure on Powell with hang times consistently between 4.6 and 4.9 seconds.
The San Diego State product experienced the rigors of competition last offseason with the Indianapolis Colts. Stahovich could not displace Colts punter Pat McAfee (one of the top five legs in the NFL), but he made sure to soak in as much as he could from the veterans that surrounded him.
"I learned a lot from both Pat and Adam Vinatieri last year at Indianapolis," said Stahovich. "One of the biggest things that you realize is there's always going to be competition. It's the best 32, and if you're 33 you're sitting at home on the couch. There's always going to be someone coming after you, so pretty much your entire career is competing each year for your spot."
Of course no discussion of Bills punters is complete until the biting winds of Buffalo have been addressed. Though they may be warm weather boys (Powell is from Florida and Stahovich is from California), these punters have experienced their fair share of fierce weather.
"At San Diego State we played games in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and they're all cold climates," explained Stahovich. "I've played in some wind. Earlier on in my collegiate career I struggled a little bit, but in my senior year I started to get the hang of it, and now I'm pretty comfortable in the weather."
While Stahovich was exposed to tricky conditions as an undergrad, Powell learned the hard way with three December home games in Buffalo in 2012.
"I knew coming into it that when you come to Buffalo you can expect wind, so I kind of put it in my mind that it was something I have to deal with and if I don't deal with it I won't be here," said Powell. "It's one of those things where I made myself get better at it. When I came in I knew the wind was going to be a difficult thing for me because I've never really played in a lot of wind. I've played in some cold places, but not really windy. Having the one year in Buffalo really helped and it's just about continuing to grow and get it down."
For now the main concern is earning that single roster spot, and the punters agree the best way to do so is to avoid getting caught up in each other's play.
"If you let the competition get a hold of you and take control of you and get in your mind, you won't be here," said Powell. "That's one thing we both have to do. If he hits a ball 60 yards I can't get up there and think 'I've got to hit a ball 60 yards' and vice versa, because that's taking each one of us out of our game."
"You just have to do your thing every day and punt your game," said Stahovich. "At the end of the day if I'm the best or he's the best or they bring in somebody else, as long as you did all you could and left everything out on the field then you can walk away from it."
Look for this competition to play out all the way to the end of training camp.