by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

Except for the kickers, it can be a difficult task to try and figure out who will be the key performers on a club’s special teams roster. The reason I say that is the makeup of the bottom half of the roster, as most club’s is so different from year to year.

One thing that is certain around the league is where the special teams core players come from. At the wide receiver, corner, safety and linebacker positions, the depth players at those positions make up the bulk of a clubs special teams performers. For example, if a club keeps six wide receivers the fourth, fifth and sixth receivers have to be good special teams contributors. All the backups at linebacker have to play on cover teams, as do the backups at corner and safety.

Because of this, often a club’s fourth through sixth receivers on their roster aren’t necessarily the clubs fourth, fifth and sixth best receivers in camp. A player with better special teams value will often beat out a player who can’t play on specials when it comes to roster makeup.

Bills Kickers

Looking at the Bills roster, there will be two placekickers in camp but it’s just about a given that Stephen Hauschka will be the Bills guy. Last year Hauschka made 29 of 33 field goal attempts including seven over 50 yards. Numbers like that are hard to beat.

At the punter position it looks to be the same. Colton Schmidt is the incumbent and with a 44.7 yard gross average and a better than 40 yard net average it will be a difficult task for anyone to beat him out. The challengers in camp will be placekicker Tyler Davis from Penn State and punter Corey Carter.

The long snapper will Reid Ferguson, a second year player from LSU. Since the Bills don’t have a second snapper in camp, it is safe to assume the Bills are happy with the work of Ferguson.

Returners

Last year the Bills main punt returner was Brandon Tate, who returned 19 punts for a 9.7 yard average. He was not brought back so there will be a competition in training camp for that job. Going into camp the names for the punt return job include backup wide receiver Quan Bray, rookie Ray Ray McDonald and perhaps rookies Taron Johnson and Siran Neal.

Tate was also the Bills main kickoff returner a year ago and so obviously there will be a competition for that spot. Among the names who will get a chance will be the above mentioned punt returners as well as running backs Taiwan Jones and Keith Ford. Needless to say, it is an open competition at both spots.

Coverage Players

Some of the main cover guys on punts and kickoffs come from the group of linebacker Ramon Humber, veteran free agent signee Julian Stanford and second year linebacker Tanner Vallejo, From the wide receiver position the key special teams cover guys could be veteran Andre Holmes, Rod Streater and rookies Austin Proehl and the aforementioned Ray Ray McDonald. McDonald and Proehl are late round draft picks and the best way for them to be a part of this team is to perform on specials.

From the defensive back corps, look for the Bills to give a strong look at Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Kelcie McCray and Phillip Gaines. Guys like Gaines and McCray have already made their mark on teams when they were with other clubs.

To get ready for training camp, read some of Greg’s other Bills position breakdowns.  That includes wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

Leave a Reply