The Buffalo Bills kicked off the 2012 preseason with a bang. Rookie kickoff specialist, John Potter, sent a booming kick out of the back of the end zone to begin the game. He followed that up with two more kickoffs that sailed through the back of the end zone and resulted in touchbacks.
Potter showed Bills fans why the team utilized a draft pick on a kickoff specialist this past April. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft and it was the first time the franchise used a draft pick on a kicker since 1990. The front office sees a lot of value in being able to pin opponents deep in their own territory on a consistent basis.
"This guy is a kickoff guy he kicked through the uprights kicking off and if you can make, or kick the ball in the end zone and make them start on the 20 it gives you a much better chance defensively," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix.
The first play of the game was on the foot of a rookie kicker and he delivered, which was impressing knowing it was the first time he ever put on an NFL uniform. Potter said that by the time he hit the field all of his nerves were gone.
"The biggest nerves come before the game when you are really unable to do anything," he said. "Once you get out there it goes away and you get more excitement going. It really all hit me during the national anthem when I realized that this is America's sport and I am blessed to be a part of it."
His first two kickoffs were crushed out of the end zone, but his third one skipped in for a touchback. He felt fortunate that the ball bounced his way on his third and final kick of the night.
"I was happy with the first two kicks, but the third one I just tried to hit a little too hard and I was lucky it didn't go out of bounds because you never want to put the other team on the 40 yard line."
He believes that sometimes kickers get overlooked, but his goal is to kick the ball out of the end zone on a consistent basis. Not only to pin the other teams deep in their own territory, but to preserve his teammates for the duration of ball games.
"I think that every yard counts in field position," Potter said. "Every yard matters, but it also helps on kickoff because it is a brutal part of the game for both the kickoff team and return team. If you are able to hit touchbacks then you can save your guys and allow them to go and make plays in other parts of the game."
It is rare to see a team keep two kickers on their roster, but if Buffalo can force the opposition to begin at the 20 yard line several times a game, then there may be value in keeping two kickers. Potter doesn't know what the coaching staff is thinking at this point, but he is convinced that he can continue to perform like he did during his first live NFL action.
"I am confident that I am going to be able to continue hitting touchbacks, so it is up to the coaching staff as far as the roster goes," said Potter. "I don't have any input as far as that goes. I just go out there and try to hit as many touchbacks as I possibly can."
Bills head coach Chan Gailey still believes that keeping two kickers on the active roster is an option, but he doesn't believe that anything is a lock at this particular time.
"It could be. I didn't say it's a guarantee, but it could be."
Special teams tend to be an underrated aspect of the game, but Potter has always believed that it is a crucial part of football. He also feels like the two kickers on this roster complement one another perfectly.
"Both field goals and kickoffs are two very important parts of the game, so you need someone who can do well in both areas," Potter said. "I think together, Rian (Lindell) and I make a good tandem."