Bills already sharp on special teams

By Anthony Bialy  |   Wednesday, August 15, 2007  |  Comments( 14 )

Buffalo Bills
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The theme of preseason game number one is always to carefully limit the playing time of crucial starters. That said, with only a handful of special teams plays per game, it's more likely that the regulars will be on the field during preseason kicks. Bearing that in mind, the Bills showed the potential to once again have a fantastic year both receiving the ball and sending it away during their contest last Friday against the Saints.

The first standout play of the preseason was made by a player brought onboard with the intention of having him dominate defensive ends, not field goal kickers. The hope with right tackle Langston Walker is that he will be able to use his lamppost-length arm span to shove rushers to the sidelines. But now, fans also hope he will be a special teams asset after the way he knocked down New Orleans' first field goal attempt.

The block came at the conclusion of the Saints' first drive, one that went mostly well for the home team but ended with them getting nothing. The 6-foot-8 Walker should be lauded not only for his willingness to play special teams but also for working hard at it and using his natural talents to reach up and knock three points out of the air.

As for stopping punt returners, Sam Aiken showed why he keeps a roster spot despite virtually zero time at wide receiver. When the return man catches the kick at his own 6-yard line, and the defender brings him down for a 4-yard loss, the tackler has performed as excellently as can be hoped. Aiken, the fifth wide receiver, is arguably the team's best coverage man on special teams, and his nice stop after the first Bills punt of the day is why he keeps a job.

Of course, you don't even need to make a spectacular tackle when your punter can put the ball out of bounds at the opponent's 3-yard line, as Brian Moorman did early in the second quarter. It just looks too easy when Moorman, a two-time Pro Bowler, kicks it, and fans have come to expect him to guide the ball wherever he wants as if it were run along a wire.

It's good for the Bills that they inked Moorman to an extension during the offseason, as kicking in the controlled conditions of a dome must seem like working on a cloud in heaven compared to dealing with Ralph Wilson Stadium's brutally harsh December weather. But he'll remain in Buffalo; and besides, anyone can kick well inside, right? Moorman seems like the sort who takes pride in dominating the ball wherever he is.

The most surprising special teams moment of the night was seeing Terrence McGee returning a kickoff. Some speculated that, despite his dynamic, stand-up-and-watch-worthy ability as a returner, he might be taken off special teams duty so he can avoid injury and focus on his cornerbacking responsibilities. That was especially true after the Bills signed special teams ace Josh Scobey, but the free agent has seen virtually zero action, and it looks as if McGee may still be showing off the fact that he is Mr. Excitement on returns in 2007.

McGee's biggest competition could turn out to be Shaud Williams, who got a shot to return the other two kickoffs the Bills received. It's a role which may be his best chance to make the roster. Williams averaged 22.5 yards on the two, a nice first impression for a player in danger of becoming superfluous to the offense.

Players only get so many opportunities to influence the game on kicking plays, and, from the looks of the first preseason game, this team is prepared to make the most of those limited chances. With nice plays from designated specialists like Moorman, backups who thrive at the opportunity to get on the field like Aiken, and regulars like Walker contributing more than just at their hired positions, the special teams have the potential to excel this season, once again.

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