This past December, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone told reporters that special teams coordinator Danny Crossman needed some help on the field in the form of more core specialists. Doug Whaley was listening, and has delivered those players in free agency by re-signing Brian Moorman and Dan Carpenter, and adding Corey Graham, Keith Rivers, and Anthony Dixon.
"One of the things that we have to establish is a core," Marrone said at the end of the season. "When you have about six core special teams players that are playing on three to four teams for you, now you have the ability to perform at a high level. We felt that that's an area that we have to improve on with our football team."
In 2013, three players saw more than 50 percent of the team's special teams snaps: Marcus Easley (68.6%), Nigel Bradham (59.4%) and Duke Williams (57%). With three of their top seven special teamers already gone or unlikely to return in Jim Leonhard, Jamaal Westerman and Arthur Moats, the Bills needed to add fresh blood - and they did it in free agency.
The most notable addition is Graham, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player in 2011 while a member of the Chicago Bears. He continued that high level of play in Baltimore during the two intervening years. He'll very likely carry that mantle in Buffalo, as well, where the Bills have one of the all-time great special teamers in Steve Tasker, a man Graham grew up admiring.
On Friday, Whaley was on The Howard Simon Show discussing the recent signings, and mentioned Rivers specifically as a special teams contributor.
"He's a four-down linebacker. He can play the first and second downs - the typical run downs," Whaley said. "He can stay in on third down and cover, because he's got athletic ability. And then he contributes on teams."
While some of the athletic and coverage ability can be debated, what can't be is Whaley's desire to see the former first-round pick play special teams. Another big-bodied special teamer comes in the form of Dixon, who got plenty of snaps on San Francisco's units over the last four years.
"Dixon plays on virtually all the special teams units," says David Fucillo from Niners Nation, SB Nation's 49ers blog. "He is a big 'energy' guy and loves special teams (although he wants to get more work as a running back)."
Adding Graham, Rivers, and Dixon to Easley and Bradham, Buffalo should have a solid group of special teamers for Crossman - even if Duke Williams sees his time on coverage units decrease if he is featured more prominently on the defense. Chis Hogan (47% of special teams snaps in 2013) and Ron Brooks (35%) could also see their role increase on coverage units as the Bills try to make good on their promise to get better in the third phase of the game.