With the league's new kickoff rule hampering average drive starts for NFL offenses a lot of clubs are looking for answers. Sitting near the bottom of the league in kick return average and average drive start the Bills turned to a seventh-round rookie with return experience two weeks ago. The results provided by Justin Rogers, though they've come in the face of losses, have been more than encouraging.
Just two weeks ago, before Rogers was inserted into the lineup as the team's primary kick returner, the Bills ranked 31st in the league in kick return average (20). In fairness opportunities to return were far from plentiful as Buffalo faced some big legged kickers and adhered to their self-imposed rule of taking a touchback if the ball was fielded four yards deep in the end zone or deeper.
In just two games however, Rogers has raised Buffalo's league ranking in kick return average six places to 25th, boosting the team's season average by more than two yards (22.2).
"Justin Rogers returning kickoffs has been a positive," said head coach Chan Gailey. "I thought that looked good for what he may bring us in the future."
Rogers has handed the Bills four of their five best drive starts this season over the past two games including Sunday's season-long 54-yard return that gave Buffalo's offense the ball at the Miami 49-yard line.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunities," said Rogerse. "Make some plays and kind of help our offense out, you know, giving them good field position."
Through the first 12 games this season Buffalo's kick returners attempted just 24 returns and got beyond the 20-yard line half time (12). That's an average of once return beyond the 20-yard line per game, and only two of those 12 reached the 30-yard line or better (30, 33).
The past two weeks Rogers has taken six of his eight return opportunities beyond the 20-yard line (75%) with four of those six going beyond the 30 (32, 33, 41, opponent's 49).
"He's got some speed and it looks like he hits it up the field pretty good," said Bills special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven. "Rogers is a guy that can make a guy miss."
Clocked in the mid-4.4s for a 40 time at the NFL combine, Rogers is a one cut and go type return man, similar to that of Bills former Pro Bowl returner Terrence McGee. Rogers was a very successful returner in college at Richmond.
As a freshman he served in a return role ranking third in the nation in kick return average (30.4). As a senior he led the Colonial Athletic Association conference in punt return average (12.4) and set the CAA record for kick return yards in a career, most notably passing Brian Westbrook on the all-time list.
With two games to go in his rookie season Rogers could effectively nail down the kick return job with performances similar to that of the past two weeks and make himself the incumbent in that role heading into 2012. He'll face a pair of respectable kick coverage units in Weeks 16 and 17 in Denver (13th) and New England (5th).