This is the last of a series that examines where the Buffalo Bills stand at each position heading into training camp, which begins July 27. Today’s installment looks at special teams.
One of the Buffalo Bills' more aggressive moves in free agency was to acquire the best available kicker in the open market.
The statement the new regime made by signing Stephen Hauschka in March to a three-year, $8.85 million contract ($4 million of which is guaranteed) was that a dependable veteran leg is vital for a team that expects to run the ball well and lean heavily on its defense.
Perhaps the Bills won't be all that explosive offensively, but they could find themselves in enough close, competitive games where field goals will make a difference.
Not surprisingly, they liked their chances much better with Hauschka, who brings solid credentials from the past six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, rather than Dan Carpenter, whose declining performance made it easy for the team to send him packing in the offseason. The Bills were tied for 28th in made field goals (19), 30th in field-goal percentage (76 percent), and 27th in extra-point percentage (88.9 percent).
The Bills also parted ways with their long-time long-snapper, Garrison Sanborn, and replaced him with Reid Ferguson, a rookie member of their practice squad in 2016.
Punter Colton Schmidt is back, signing a two-year contract in March after the Bills initially decided not to give him a tender while he was a restricted free agent. He's looking to rebound from his worst season since beginning his NFL career with the Bills in 2014.
Here's the breakdown at special teams:
Returning: Colton Schmidt (P) and Reid Ferguson (LS).
Newcomers: Stephen Hauschka (K) and Austin Rehkow (K).
Better, worse or the same?: Better.
Hauschka was an integral part of the Seahawks' 13-3 season in 2013, which ended with 43-8 victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. He is the Seahawks’ all-time leader in field goals (175) and their No. 2 all-time producer of points (759).
As a rule, teams are better off with more experienced kickers because of their consistency and ability to stay cool under pressure. Hauschka also has a powerful enough leg to be effective on kickoffs.
Rehkow, an undrafted free agent from Idaho, had an impressive offseason and his presence will likely serve the purpose of keeping Hauschka motivated to excel. However, the rookie isn't expected to unseat an established player and one of the higher-paid kickers in the NFL.
Ferguson looks to be every bit as reliable as Sanborn, but at a much cheaper price.
Schmidt is capable of being a solid punter. He had a strong season in 2015, averaging a career-best 46.3 yards per kick with a net average of 41.3 (seventh-best in the NFL). Those numbers fell to 42.4 and 38.1 (30th in the league), respectively, last year.
Veteran receiver Brandon Tate survived the roster purge largely because of his kick-return skills. Rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White could also end up contributing as a returner, along with newly acquired safety Micah Hyde, who did a nice job returning kicks and punts during the past five seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
The Bills figure to have improved their kick-coverage units by making linebackers Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo fifth- and sixth-round draft choices, respectively. Both demonstrated in their college careers they can cover plenty of ground and are good open-field tacklers.
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