Yesterday, we spent a little time talking about Buffalo Bills safety Jon Corto - an Orchard Park native - and his unique role as perhaps the only non-kicking-game (meaning non-K, non-P, non-LS) pure specialist on the team. There are plenty of players on Buffalo's roster that will need to prove themselves as specialists to make the team, but Corto stands alone as the one guy known entirely for his work in that area.
This formula works both ways. Not only does the ability to play special teams help certain young players, but the complete lack of proficiency (or opportunity, or youth, or all of the above) in that area can hurt someone's attempt to make the roster, as well. Since Buffalo's roster is so young, there aren't many players that fall into this category, but they certainly exist on this roster.
Perhaps the best example is veteran pass rusher Chris Kelsay, who will turn 31 this Halloween. He's been Buffalo's starting left defensive end for the past six years, but now that the team is moving to the 3-4 alignment, he'll transition to the strong-side OLB position. As a starter, Kelsay has rarely played special teams in recent seasons, letting his understudy, the now-departed Ryan Denney, do the dirty work there. Moving to a new position, however, Kelsay might need to prove himself an unusually quick and proficient study in order to fend off younger, just-as-athletic outside linebackers (like Chris Ellis and Antonio Coleman) who can also play special teams.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Kawika Mitchell - who turns 31 three weeks before Kelsay - hasn't been a heavy-duty specialist since his early days in Kansas City. Buffalo's starting inside linebackers appear set, and the presence of veteran linebacker depth (Reggie Torbor) and young talent (Arthur Moats, possibly Nic Harris) - all of whom can definitely contribute on special teams - place Mitchell in a unique situation, as well. Like Kelsay, I think Mitchell's roster spot is safe at the moment (mostly because of Buffalo's huge question mark in the pass rushing department), but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Buffalo's coaches see more value in keeping a younger player with more roster versatility and cutting Mitchell loose.
Offensively, two wide receivers fit into this conversation - James Hardy and Chad Jackson. Neither is considered a return specialist (though Jackson's 19 career kick and punt returns prove he's at least gotten a look back there), and even if they were, the likes of C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin, Roscoe Parrish and Fred Jackson have those areas covered. Hardy spent most of the healthy portion of his 2010 season inactive because he's not great covering kicks and punts, and the jury is very much out on Jackson there, too. Buffalo's got a lot of young, eager talent at receiver, and without unusually strong offensive showings this pre-season, neither of these receivers is a lock to make the team.
That's not to say that none of these guys can't play special teams - it's just that they either have never done it (like Hardy), or haven't in a while (like Kelsay and Mitchell). It's certainly something to consider when talking about the back end of Buffalo's roster, and makes it absolutely necessary that these guys perform up to snuff in their traditional roles.