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Under-the-radar LB Deon Lacey brings speed to Bills' special teams

PITTSFORD – Deon Lacey played only three snaps on defense for the Buffalo Bills last season, despite being active for all 16 games.

Yet the backup linebacker is a strong bet to make the Bills' roster again this season because he is a core special teamer. He led the Bills in 2017 by playing 285 special-teams snaps, or 65 percent of all the kicking plays.

"I'm not big on looking at stats," Lacey said after Tuesday's practice at St. John Fisher College. "I didn't even know that I led the team until you just told me. That's nice, I guess. But my thing is focusing on winning and getting better. And I love playing special teams."

The 28-year-old Lacey plays on both kickoff and punt coverage, as well as kickoff and punt returns.

"I love all special teams but my most favorite is kickoff coverage," Lacey said. "It's wide open. As long as you're in your lane, you keep that ball on the inside shoulder, and you go make a play. It's a tone setter. It's a tone setting play, that first kickoff."

Lacey was claimed by the Bills off waivers from Miami just before the season opener last year. He made eight special-teams tackles, one shy of team leaders Lorenzo Alexander and Shamarko Thomas, who had nine apiece.

Lacey's most noteworthy play of the season came when he stuffed a fake punt attempt by Denver on a fourth-and-2 play in the third quarter of the Bills' Week 3 home victory.

"It was a big moment for me because I had just joined a new team, at the last minute," he said. "I was trying to get to know everybody, and that made me feel more comfortable."

Speed is Lacey's asset. He ran between 4.45 and 4.51 in the 40-yard dash in 2013 coming out of Division II West Alabama, where he played mostly as a 215-pound defensive end. Now he's 229 pounds.

Lacey spent three years in the Canadian Football League from 2014 to 2016, honing his game and adjusting to a full-time linebacker role. He was a special-teams ace for the Edmonton Eskimos, too, before starring at linebacker his last season.

It's not something he had to learn as a pro.

"I embraced it when I was in high school," Lacey said. "I was always the first guy down covering kicks. It's always been part of me. It's nothing new. And it was so big in Canada. Because the field is so big, it's a huge part of the game. And there's no fair-catching in Canada. You have to return the ball. It's huge."

Lacey is hoping his development at linebacker will make his roster spot even more secure. He has been seeing mostly second-team snaps at weak-side linebacker, behind starter Matt Milano.

Bills coach Sean McDermott acknowledged Lacey's improvement this summer when answering a question about areas of the team where competition is the most intense.

"There is a lot that's getting me excited in terms of the competition, depth," McDermott said. "The linebacking corps in particular. I've seen obviously the introduction of Tremaine (Edmunds) into that group, but also the way that Deon Lacey has improved from a year ago. Obviously, he wasn't with us in training camp, picking him up before the season, watching him develop."

Ramon Humber is the other outside linebacker on the second unit. He has the ability to play both outside spots. Keenan Robinson, a seventh-year veteran signed from the New York Giants, is a 245-pounder who has seen some second-team snaps and could make a push for a backup linebacker job. He doesn't bring as much speed as Lacey.

"I'm just focusing on the details of my work," Lacey said. "I have more confidence this year, being with the team for a year. I'm just trying to get better and put more out on the field."

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