When the starters for the Buffalo Bills leave the field after a short night of work Thursday in the preseason finale those fighting for the final spots on the roster will be making their case for the final time. It's the last opportunity to show they deserve to be part of the 53-man roster.
"It's critically important to a certain number of guys," said head coach Dick Jauron. "How many I'm not certain. They will be judged by the body of their work, but this is part of that body and in some cases it's their last chance."
For the last five to 10 roster spots special teams ability is almost a given. Players who won't be regular starters on offense or defense have to be able to contribute as a specialist to be a viable consideration for the active roster.
Jauron plans to have some lengthy discussions with assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Bobby April coming out of tonight's game. April wields a significant influence on some of the final roster decisions.
"It's been continuous," said Jauron of his discussions with April. "We talk all the time about special teams and who is performing at a high level. Just like every position we have Bob rank his teamers so we know where they stand in their importance to him. And then we'll make our decisions with a lot of it based on that."
Each year there are cases where players are caught in a numbers' game at a certain position and making the team is based more on circumstance than ability. But Jauron assures his players that if they're talented enough they will play in the league.
"We have made a strong point of telling them that every game they're being watched and not just by us," said Jauron. "Every team in the league is watching your performance and if you're good enough to play in this league, you'll play somewhere."
Of course Jauron said he and his staff will make exceptions and keep a player if they feel he's valuable enough, even if it means sacrificing at another position.
"Guys can certainly play themselves into the discussion," he said.
And rest assured that any big plays made on special teams Thursday night will not go unnoticed when the decisions are made for those final roster spots.
"It's huge, special teams," said Jauron. "If you can't kick it and cover it or return it, you're not going to win in this league."