Bills Camp Preview: Special Teams

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka looks after a field goal during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

As the Bills get ready for training camp, we are previewing the 2020 team by position group. One group every day until camp begins in full July 28th. Today is the special teams.

STRENGTH

Options

I can’t ever remember a Bills team going into a training camp with two kickers and two punters that each have very legitimate shots to be the guy week one. Very few NFL teams ever start a season this way.

Stephen Hauschka is the incumbent kicker and is coming off the two shakiest field goal seasons of his career. He made 22 of 28 three pointers in both 2018 and 2019. They are the only two years where his success rate was less than 80%.

The long kicks were also an issue. Last year was only the second season for Hauschka, as the full time kicker, where he made less than 50% of kicks from 50 yards plus. His long of 51 was the shortest long of his full time career.

However, Hauschka has made plenty of big kicks and won a Super Bowl when his competitor for the job was in 10th grade. When it comes to a team that expects to need big kicks this year, that can’t be overlooked.

What also can’t be overlooked is that his competition is a kicker that the Bills used to draft pick to acquire. Tyler Bass was taken high in round six and made 70 yard field goals on Twitter. Those two factors alone could win him the job. Brandon Beane made a point to mention how much leg strength matters in Buffalo, even only on kickoffs.

The Bills have two erratic boomers at punter. Corey Bojorquez was functional last season and is still a young guy with upside. Kaare Vedvik was the 2019 version of Bass. He didn’t work out as a placekicker. The Bills are hoping the cannon attached to his right hip could work as a punter. It’s very possible the reduced pressure could unlock Vedvik as a special teams weapon.

Vedvik also has the potential to be a kickoff specialist and could get a few long field goal tries if Hauschka ends up with the placekicking job. It’s good to have options.

WEAKNESS

Trust

This is the flip side of having multiple decent to good choices at both kicking positions: it wouldn’t happen if the Bills already had someone they could fully trust.

Hauschka just turned 35. Kickers can be successful well into their 40’s, but not all of them are. The Bills may need to move on.

Bass is hardly a solid bet for NFL success. He was 72nd in the NCAA for field goal accuracy last year. His career average is slightly better than Hauschka’s last two seasons–again, the worst of his career.

Bojorquez can hammer the ball, but was still second worst in the league last season for yards per punt. The winds of Orchard Park don’t help, but the Bills can’t function with a punter that had far too many 25 yard wobblers last season.

Vedvik’s rookie season was one long 25 yard wobbler. His six consecutive months on the Bills roster is a new personal record. Not having to kick a single football may have something to do with that.

He’s at least already helped the Bills win a game. His brutal game in the season opener last year helped set up Buffalo’s comeback win over the Jets. The Bills will have to hope history doesn’t repeat if he ends up with the punting job to open this season.

X-FACTOR

Tyler Bass

The Bills offense is better, but this is still probably a defense first team. That means low scoring, close games that could easily come down to the kicker. Expecting a rookie to make last second game winners for a team with huge expectations is a tough ask.

However, Bass’ length could also expand the scoring zone. The Bills had the second most punts beyond the 50 last season. Turn a few of those punts into field goals and maybe they won’t need much in the last second heroics department.

THINGS WERE SAID

Determining who the Bills prefer at kicker is no easy choice. No matter how many times Sean McDermott sets Bass up with “ok, make this 40 yarder or the team has to run sprints”, it still won’t compare to the same kick with a win or a playoff spot or a Super Bowl on the line. The kind of kicks Hauschka has already made.

Unfortunately, that is the spot McDermott and special teams coach Heath Farwell will be in and they have only a shortened training camp to decide.

“It’s the golf analogy. Hitting it on the driving range is great, but when you get out there with out of bounds and the water and all that, it is different. It’s not easy,” Beane said. “To go against a guy with Stephen’s history, Tyler will really have to convince us that he is mentally strong. He’s got all the physical skills, but he can handle the pressure.”

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