Coach Sean McDermott has turned to a young face with a familiar connection to try to turn around the Buffalo Bills’ special teams units.
The Bills confirmed the hiring of 37-year-old Heath Farwell as the new special teams coordinator, replacing the recently fired Danny Crossman. Farwell is just four years removed from his playing career. His selection by McDermott first was reported on Tuesday.
Farwell retired after the 2014 season, concluding a 10-year career. Farwell was a special teams ace for six years with Minnesota and four with the Seahawks.
This will be Farwell’s first chance as a coordinator. He spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons as assistant special teams coach in Seattle. He was hired in 2018 by Carolina coach Ron Rivera as assistant special teams coach for the Panthers.
McDermott, of course, served seven years as Rivera’s defensive coordinator before coming to Buffalo.
Farwell takes over a big rebuilding project.
The Bills ranked 31st in the NFL in net punting and used three punters due to injury (to Corey Bojorquez) and ineffectiveness (Colton Schmidt). They were 20th in net punt return yards allowed.
Punt protection was an issue at times. Bojorquez had a punt blocked in Houston. That miscue and a muffed punt against the Texans were huge factors in the Bills’ loss.
On kickoffs, the average drive start by Bills opponents was the 26.6-yard line, the second best in the league (or worst, from the Bills' perspective).
The Bills’ return game wasn’t very good, either. They ranked 24th on punt return average and 21st on kickoff return average.
Farwell is a California native who played at San Diego State and entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2005.
He made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player for the Vikings in 2009.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll recognized Farwell as coaching material while he was playing. Farwell spent his final Seahawks season on the sidelines after suffering a serious groin injury in preseason. Rather than reaching an injury settlement with him, Carroll opted to keep Farwell on the injured reserve list and use him in a mentoring/coaching role for the special teams. Seattle reached the Super Bowl that year, losing to New England in the final game.
The Panthers' special teams fared better than the Bills in 2018. Carolina allowed the fourth fewest kickoff return yards in the league and the seventh fewest punt-return yards. Carolina ranked 12th in net punting.