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Powell adds direction; Bills' rookie punter Shawn Powell looks to learn from Pro Bowler Brian Moorman, and challenge him, too

At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Shawn Powell would be the biggest man ever to punt for the Buffalo Bills.

He has a great college resume, having earned first-team All-America honors after leading the nation in punting average for Florida State last season. He has more experience in directional kicking and some of the finer points of punting than most players coming out of college.

All of that makes Powell, an undrafted free agent, a serious challenger to incumbent Bills punter Brian Moorman this summer.

Moorman is a two-time Pro Bowler, arguably was the Bills player of the decade in the 2000s, and remains a great athlete with incredible leg speed, even at age 36. It will not be easy to beat him out.

But Powell is one of the best young challengers the Bills could have found, not just a "token leg" brought in to give the veteran a breather during training camp. There is little question they are aiming to push their veteran.

"I just know that he was one of the higher-rated punters out there, and the two times he punted for us this weekend he did a very, very good job," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "So he's put himself in a position to compete for the job, for sure."

Powell gives Moorman his due respect.

"My agent felt like this was the best opportunity," he said. "Moorman's a great punter. He's been here 12 years, and just being able to learn from him will be great for me."

However, Powell had his eyes on Buffalo even before the draft process, even though he grew up in Rome, Ga., and has spent his whole life in the South.

"Signing with the Bills was more special to me, beyond football, because my kicking coach, Greg Cater, punted here," Powell said, referring to the Bills' punter from 1980 to 1983. "So I've always talked about the Bills. I have a Bills Greg Cater jersey. He told me if I made all-state in high school, he'd give me one of his jerseys, so I have one. It was just weird when I got the call from the Bills. It's like full circle."

Cater now works as a pastor in Rome, Ga. But he has been working with Powell since he was 16 on his punting mechanics.

"From the first time I worked with him it was obvious he was special," Cater said. "I remember the first time I let him tee the ball up and kick off for me at Darlington [high school]. There's a row of evergreens behind the end zone. He nailed that thing over the evergreens. I said, 'You've got the leg strength. All we need to do is point you in the right direction.' "

Powell averaged a nation's-best 47.0 yards per punt as a senior at Florida State. His net average of 41.2 yards was second best in the nation. Equally impressive was the fact only 37 percent of his punts were returned. Opposing returners fair-caught 40 percent of his punts. Powell put 21 punts inside the 20, and he had only two touchbacks.

Powell is comfortable booting directional punts, toward the sideline, a tactic that is given a high priority by Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven.

"We did a lot of directional stuff," Powell said. "That really helped me out. That's what the NFL is all about -- directional punting. Coach [Eddie] Gran, my coach at Florida State, told me if you want to make it you've got to do this. He put that into me in college and made me better, and I feel that put me one step ahead because I've been doing it."

Once the Seminoles got to midfield, Powell used a rugby-style kick to pin the opponent inside the 20. It's a low-trajectory punt toward the sideline that bounces downfield but, ideally, runs out of bounds or out of steam before the end zone.

"Having the rugby kick also helps out," Powell said. "If you have a great returner, they don't get underneath the ball. It gives our team time to get down there and cover it because it's supposed to hit the ground and start rolling. So it kind of cuts off the return yardage. It's a real good kick inside the 50."

He also spent time earlier this year in San Diego working with former Chargers punter Darren Bennett on the "Aussie punt," which goes end over end and lands with backspin, so it doesn't go in the end zone.

Powell never tried that punt for the Seminoles but says he is confident enough to use it with the Bills. In fact, he was booting it repeatedly with success inside the 10-yard line in Sunday's rookie practice.

"The thing I've always liked about Shawn is he can do so many things with the football," Cater said. "He can get it down the field; he can really turn the field for you. He can kick directionally. He has a great mental approach. He doesn't get rattled. He's sort of the total package."