For the first time in years, the Buffalo Bills are heading into a training camp with legitimate competitions brewing at both the kicker and punter spots. The franchise's all-time leading punter, Brian Moorman, was jettisoned last fall, and his kicking counterpart of nearly a decade, Rian Lindell, may be joining him as an ex-Bill later this summer.
- Age: 22 (23 in October)
- Contract: Unsigned rookie. Last year's No. 177 overall pick signed a four-year, $2.214 million deal with a $114,224 signing bonus.
A sixth-round pick out of Florida State, Hopkins is the earliest draft pick at either the kicker or punter positions that the Bills have made since 1990, when John Nies was also selected in the sixth round (23 picks earlier than Hopkins). Here's to hoping that Hopkins' career is significantly longer than Nies', which lasted just four games.
Hopkins was a standout performer as a Seminole, growing more consistent throughout his four-year career - he connected on 83.3 percent of his kicks as a senior. He's also got a big leg, connecting on 9-of-15 field goals over 50 yards in his career, including 5-of-6 as a senior.
- Age: 36
- Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $2.1 million in base salary in 2013. Counts $3 million against the cap if he's on the roster, and $2.7 million against it if he's released.
Competing with Hopkins for the kicking job is incumbent Rian Lindell, now the oldest player on Buffalo's roster by a wide margin. Lindell has been the model of consistency over the last two years, connecting on 34-of-39 attempts in that time frame. Part of that high level of accuracy, however, stems from the previous coaching staff's unwillingness to use his fading leg to kick longer field goals; the Bills would routinely punt or leave the offense on the field on fourth down in lieu of attempting a longer kick. Add to that the fact that the Bills experimented with a kickoff specialist last season, and the leg strength concerns about Lindell are obvious.
- Age: 24 (25 in November)
- Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $480,000 in base salary in 2013.
Powell was in camp last season, but didn't make the team as Moorman was retained. Less than a month into the season, however, Moorman was cut and Powell was signed; he had his ups and downs as a rookie, mixing several outstanding punts with some real duffers. Consistency will be his big hurdle to clear in 2013; if he does that, he has the makings of a pretty solid punter. Also working in his favor for making the team next season: the fact that he and Hopkins were teammates at Florida State, where Powell was Hopkins' holder on field goal attempts.
- Age: 23
- Contract: Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013. Contract length undisclosed.
The Bills needed some camp competition for Powell, and they got some in the form of Stahovich, who was signed just prior to the draft after a minicamp tryout. A solid athlete with a big leg, Stahovich has been in and out of camps for two years since going undrafted out of San Diego State in 2011. With an unproven punter in front of him on the depth chart, Stahovich has a reasonable shot at unseating Powell for a roster spot, particularly with a new coaching staff in town.
- Age: 27 (28 in July)
- Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $885,000 in base salary in 2013.
In his four-year career, Sanborn has earned the right to enter training camp without serious competition for his roster spot. Anonymous long snappers are the best long snappers, and Sanborn's mishaps have been extremely rare since he took over this job full-time as an undrafted free agent out of Florida State in 2009. His career did not overlap with Hopkins' at Florida State, but he did play with Powell (then a true freshman) in 2008 - and they obviously worked together last year, as well.
When a team spends a sixth-round pick on a kicker, they are expecting that kicker to be the guy when the regular season begins. That's doubly true if the incumbent kicker has leg strength questions and has been in town for a decade. Hopkins enters training camp as the favorite to be the Bills' kicker in 2013, and if Powell can hold off his competition, the team has a great shot at entering the new season with an all-Florida State specialist trio in Dustin Hopkins, Shawn Powell and Garrison Sanborn.