Special Teams To Be Stressed
There is nowhere to go but up for this unit.
by Steve Saslow
July 25, 2001
The Bills followed up the horrific 'Music City Miracle' in the 1999 playoffs with the worst special teams a NFL club could have in 2000. They finished dead last in almost every category. That is why new Coach Gregg Williams is stressing the importance of special teams. They will practice them everyday and devote full practices to this unit in training camp as well as use starters on the kickoff and punt coverage and return teams.
Even though the plan is to use starters expect many draft picks and free agent signees to man the units. Players were drafted with special teams in mind. Brandon Spoon for example, could be a force on all units. Jimmy Williams, Tony Driver and Nate Clements all have experience returning kicks and punts. They will all get a look as well as see time on coverage teams.
Clements was taken in the first round because of his coverage skills as a cornerback but he is an outstanding punt return who is probably the favorite to handle those duties this season. Williams will also get a chance to win the punt return job, his ability as a returner may go a long way in him winning a spot on the roster. Chris Watson was last year's returner but he was ineffective, he still may get a look in camp though. Returning kicks will also be an open competition. Watson may get a look along with last year's rookie Avion Black. Driver was drafted partly because of his kick return talents. His spot on the roster may be dependent on his abilities to return kicks.
The one set spot on special teams is the kicker as Steve Christie returns after taking a look at the free agent market. He is a clutch kicker who knows the windy conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium very well. There will be a new punter as Jay Taylor will try to win the job. His chances are improved if he can win the job as kickoff specialist also, he has a strong leg but can he handle punting in Western New York is the issue. The Bills made an intriguing signing this week by adding NFL Europe ace punter Brian Moorman to the roster. He led Europe in punting two years in a row. The winner of the punter job may not be on the roster yet. Tom Donahoe has said that he can get a punter a few days before the season if need be. The Bills punter may be some veteran in another team's camp right now.
There will be a new long snapper as the Bills let go of Ethan Albright for salary cap reasons. There are a few candidates, leading the way is starting center Bill Conaty. TE Dan O'Leary was drafted for his snapping abilities. He can help his chances of making the roster if he can win this specialized job. The holder can be one of the two backup quarterbacks, Alex Van Pelt or Pete Gonzalez. It may also be starting TE Jay Riemersma.
There will be a new attitude and many new faces on special teams this year and Williams will make sure that they are mentally ready to do this very important job as well as physically ready. That alone will make this unit much improved in 2001.
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