Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman is part of what will be a history-making change in the NFL this season with respect to the new rules for the kickoff play. With a restraining zone for at least eight of the 11 players on the return team, no run up to the kickoff line for the coverage unit and no two-man wedges allowed in the blocking scheme, the kickoff play has been changed forever going forward.
"This will be the most important preseason in terms of the kicking game in the 17 years I've been in the league," said Crossman. "It's going to be interesting and important to see what other teams are trying to do on kickoff and kickoff return. It's going to be a completely different play. There will be a lot of the same things embedded in it, but a completely different play than we've seen in the past."
Buffalo's special teams coach will be paying close attention to tonight's Hall of Fame game. Not only to see what other teams might be planning and scheming to adhere to the new kickoff rules, but because both the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears are two of the Bills opponents this season.
"We'll watch the daylights out of that tonight," said Crossman. "We'll watch every preseason game whether we're playing those teams or not, just to get ideas to see what is being done by teams around the league and to see how officials are calling stuff. That's as important as what the teams are doing. What are the officials looking for and what are they really detailing? Every crew is going to be a little bit different."
All the changes have prompted Crossman to alter his approach to coaching the kickoff and kick return plays.
"We changed how we coach and more importantly we have a lot more things in our toolbox available to us based on what we're seeing around the league. It's going to be fun, but it's going to be a challenge."
Working with the officials Crossman along with special teams assistant Matt Smiley have conducted a healthy dialogue with the NFL officiating crew, which arrived at Bills training camp this week to gain clarity on the new rules as well as how things will be policed on the kickoff play.
"A week ago, they just sent us some more information about the kickoff rules. Same rules, just more detail and more clarity of exactly what those rules are on paper," Crossman said. "Having the officials here, we're going to work kickoff and kickoff return again today. We're going to get into how and why (these officials), who are going to be there on game day, are going to officiate it, like the blocking rules for example.
"To be able to talk and pull information from the guys who are going to be out there calling it will be invaluable. That communication has been great."
Returner competition update A healthy rotation of players on both kickoff and punt return drills has been deployed by Crossman. Among the candidates for punt return are Ray-Ray McCloud, Jeremy Kerley, Quan Bray and Austin Proehl. On kickoff it's been Kerley, Proehl, Bray, Kaelin Clay, Taiwan Jones and Marcus Murphy.
To this point however, no one has really established themselves as a leader in either competition.
"It's good competition and I'm getting a feel for guys," said Crossman. "But until we're in real games in the preseason that's when those positions will start to separate and settle things down."
Photos from Day 6 of 2018 Bills Training Camp, presented by Connors and Ferris.