After finishing in the top five among the league's special teams units in 2020, the Bills are relying on consistency within their personnel to remain at the top of one of the most overlooked aspects of football.
Even though the team didn't bring back their starting punter and kick returner from last season, special teams coordinator Heath Farwell is confident in the veteran leaders he has in his unit to be able to get the job done.
The team signed punter Matt Haack during free agency and according to Farwell, he was the number one guy on his list. After Thursday's practice, Farwell glowed about Haack's ability as a holder, and the control he has in his leg. He thinks Haack will be a great partner for Tyler Bass, who is entering his second NFL season as the Bills kicker.
The Bills didn't bring in any competition at kicker or punter for training camp, and that's what Farwell wanted. He wanted the three specialists to be able to have as much time working together so that it's almost second nature by the start of the regular season.
"I just trust our guys," Farwell said. "We have as good a group as anybody. … And I really wanted to focus on the continuity, especially with Matt [Haack] coming in here. I'm not trading holders for Bass and trying to figure all that out."
"Let's get these guys to where they work together," Farwell added. "They get to know each other on and off the field without having any distractions of another guy coming in and being a factor in it."
Bass is coming off a solid rookie season where he made 82.4 percent of his field goals attempts and set multiple Bills franchise records. The Bills kicker said that his focus throughout the offseason was working on being smoother and more consistent with his field goals. The three Bills specialists met early and often throughout the offseason and have created a bond and a familiarity with each other on and off the field. Bass appreciates being the only kicker in camp as he can use every rep to improve himself and his game.
"I think it's good because, with a new addition of Matt [Haack], Reid, Matt and I are able to get to work without getting disrupted or any interruptions," Bass said. "So, I'm able to maximize all the time we have together which I think's a good thing. And it just takes a distraction away from it, so we just focus on bettering ourselves."
For Haack, this is one of the few times that he hasn't faced any competition for the starting job during training camp. Whether there is someone to compete against him or not, Haack knows what he needs to do to get better and he has the same mentality when it comes to practice.
"I treat it like there's competition every day," Haack said. "I may be the only punter here but there's 32 other players on the other teams and however many punters they brought into camp. … So, in my eyes, I'm competing every day. Whether it's against myself because I know there's a million other guys out there that want to be in a position I'm in right now. So, you can't take anything for granted."
One of the biggest position battles of this year's training camp is the kick/punt returner role. Currently, Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Powell and rookie Marquez Stevenson have been competing for the starting job. Farwell said that McKenzie is in the number one spot for that position right now as he was impressed with what he saw from him last season and so far in camp.
McKenzie was able to learn a lot from former returner Andre Roberts in the two seasons they were teammates. There was one thing in particular that McKenzie learned that helped take his return game to the next level.
"Situations, certain situations of the game," McKenzie explained. "How to control field position. Just knowing when to take a catch, when to take a chance. Don't be too greedy. Just do your job, make sure we have the ball at the end of the day. We talked a lot about that. It's small, but it's big because the ball is so important."
Scroll through to see the best photos from Day 7 of Bills training camp, presented by Connors & Ferris.