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What we learned about the special teams unit through the first wave of free agency

Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich (44) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich (44) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Buffalo's special teams unit made positive gains in 2019 under new coordinator Heath Farwell after a down 2018 campaign. But as general manager Brandon Beane said in the team's end of season press conference, they want to be better in that phase of the game.

Beane and his pro personnel staff made some clear steps to accomplish that already in free agency. Knowing the team was losing special teams stalwart Lorenzo Alexander to retirement and with four other special teamers set to become free agents, Buffalo struck early to refortify the core of Farwell's unit.

Scroll through to view the latest updates on Buffalo's reported additions to the roster through free agency.

Specialists: P Corey Bojorquez, LS Reid Ferguson, K Stephen Hauschka, P/K Kaare Vedvik

Buffalo's kicking and punting operation is largely unchanged from last season, but the end of season addition of Vedvik was a good chance to add competition in the kicking game.

Vedvik can kick, punt and kickoff. Vedvik is a good kickoff specialist who hit his last 13 kickoffs for touchbacks in the 2019 preseason and regular season.

Hauschka had a tough stretch of games in the middle of the season, but rebounded nicely down the stretch hitting 13 attempts on the season including all four in the Wild Card playoff loss at Houston. That included a perfect 6-6 streak on kicks of 40 yards or more, the last of which was his clutch 47-yard attempt with five seconds left to force overtime in the playoff game.

Key coverage players: WR Robert Foster, DE Darryl Johnson, DB Jaquan Johnson, RB Taiwan Jones (agreed to terms), LB AJ Klein (agreed to terms), LB Tyler Matakevich (agreed to terms), DB Siran Neal

The Bills re-tooled their core of punt and kick coverage units with the free agent additions of LB AJ Klein, LB Tyler Matakevich and RB Taiwan Jones.

No one in the league has more special teams tackles over the last four seasons than Matakevich, and Klein excelled as a special teams coverage player while with the Carolina Panthers. Klein led the Panthers in special teams tackles in 2015.

The Bills also re-signed Taiwan Jones, who in his first stint with the Buffalo was a special teams captain. Pairing the top end speed of Jones with Robert Foster, who was re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent, gives coach Farwell a formidable duo of gunners to get down the field and cover punts.  

And Buffalo's leading tackler on special teams last season, Siran Neal, figures to be a critical component of the cover teams again in 2020.

Returners: S Micah Hyde, RB Taiwan Jones, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, WR Isaiah McKenzie, WR Andre Roberts

Primary return man Andre Roberts is still under contract and had a solid season for the Bills in 2019.

Buffalo re-signed Roberts' main understudy in McKenzie, who filled in for Roberts when he missed three games due to injury.

Hyde was used sparingly when ball security was more important strategically in a game than return yards and Taiwan Jones can be a consideration on kick returns.

What the additions mean

Matakevich and Klein figure to help make up for the loss of Alexander and any of the team's other special teamers who are free agents. They bring proven production to the Bills' coverage units.

Taiwan Jones brings versatility as he can serve on coverage and return units if necessary, and his 4.35 speed will be a welcome addition.

Scroll through to view the players at each position on Buffalo's special teams unit that are currently on or reported to be on the roster prior to the NFL Draft.

Three questions moving forward?

Will Vedvik prove to be stiff competition for Bojorquez?

How will the depth at the receiver position potentially impact special teams when roster decisions are made?

Can Hauschka pick up where he left off late last season?

What could happen between now and training camp?

Buffalo figures to supplement the talent it already has for its special teams units with a later free agent additions or two.

The Bills have done a good job of developing their draft choices into special teams contributors the last few years with Siran Neal, Darryl Johnson and Jaquan Johnson some of the most recent examples. Look for that to continue with this year's draft class.

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