McGee has a new competitor for KR reps (Photo Source)
Note: As Buffalo Rumblings counts down the days until the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp (current count: 6), we'll be breaking down some of the bigger battles we're sure to witness during summer practices. We continue our Battles series by looking at the battle for the team's kick and punt return duties. Previous installments: Backup TE, Backup LT, Starting CB
For about half a decade now, the Buffalo Bills have boasted one of the NFL's most consistently excellent special teams units in every facet of the game, from kicking to kick coverage to returns. Particularly in the return department - where Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish rank amongst the league's elite individual return men - Buffalo is very close to unparalleled as a unit.
Not for no reason, however, was rookie CB Leodis McKelvin regarded as one of the most explosive return men in this past April's draft. With 7 career punt returns for scores in college (and another on a kick return), McKelvin adds an entire new dimension to Buffalo's return department - and his addition also creates questions about playing time between Buffalo's three standout return men.
As it stands right now, Terrence McGee is Buffalo's top kick returner - and though I've called for his return chances to be reduced slightly, it doesn't appear that it's going to happen. McGee had an off year in the KR department in '07, scoring once and seeing his return average dip to 24 yards per return (his career average is slightly higher at 26.4), but he's still a threat to score every time he touches the ball. As the team's top cornerback, it might be wise to slip McKelvin in on kick returns once in a while, simply to keep McGee fresher than he normally is throughout a game.
McKelvin's specialty is not kick returns. He's certainly a threat to score each time he touches the ball, but not unlike Chicago's Devin Hester (a player McKelvin compares himself to), he's a much more dangerous threat on punt returns, where he can make one or two guys miss and hit the jets immediately. Kick returning is a different type of return, and McKelvin just isn't as adept at it yet as he is fielding punts. Expect to see a lot of McGee this season.
Parrish is coming off of a career 2007 season in which he averaged a whopping 16.3 yards per punt return, scoring once (he also had another TD return negated on a penalty). One of the quickest, most agile athletes in the game today, Parrish is a nightmare to cover on punt returns for any team in the league. That's one reason he only fielded 27 punts last season (the other reason being that Buffalo's defense couldn't get opposing offenses off the field).
If anything, Parrish needs to see more touches in this department, and in all honesty, McKelvin complicates more than supplements this issue. Sure, the Bills could throw McKelvin in with Parrish in a double return formation - which they've done in the past with Jim Leonhard - but that compromises blocking slightly, and also keeps the ball out of the hands of Parrish on occasion. The question here: where does McKelvin fit in, if at all?
Leodis McKelvin is being counted on to be a contributor in some fashion as a rookie - in today's NFL, you have to get some production out of your #11 overall pick, especially if you're coming off of back-to-back 7-9 seasons. But as it stands right now, McKelvin might have a difficult time stealing touches from either McGee or Parrish. His addition adds intrigue and an explosive dynamic to Buffalo's return department, but it also brings up a lot of questions that we won't have answers for until the players put on the pads. So I ask you: how do you believe the Bills should utilize McKelvin's talents in conjunction with those of McGee and Parrish?