McKelvin making impact on special teams (Photo Source)
Entering his fifth year as the special teams coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Bobby April has earned a reputation as one of - if not the - best in the business at his craft. In his four years on the job, April's special teams units have consistently ranked near the top of the NFL in overall ranking, and the Bills have garnered the reputation as the most consistently excellent special teams units in the NFL.
Is it fair, then, that the Bills have gotten even more explosive with the addition of CB Leodis McKelvin?
Through two pre-season games, Buffalo's rookie cornerback and return specialist has been impressive, averaging 28.3 yards per return each time he's touched the ball, whether on kick or punt returns. McKelvin picked up 105 return yards on just three returns in the Bills' loss to the Washington Redskins, and his 95-yard touchdown jaunt in the Steelers game sealed the Bills' first pre-season win.
McKelvin hasn't been perfect, though. His poor communication on a short punt hit coverage man Steve Johnson, leading to a Steelers fumble recovery. He's also been highly boom-or-bust; he'll either break loose for a long return, or he'll miss his hole and get taken down before the 20 yard line. Take out his long touchdown Thursday night, and McKelvin averaged just 17.7 yards per return. There's work to do for McKelvin. But he's made it resoundingly clear to this point that he is a lethal playmaker.
The problem, of course, is that the Bills already have two outstanding return men in CB Terrence McGee and WR Roscoe Parrish. McGee was a Pro Bowl return man in 2005; Parrish led the NFL in punt return average last season with a 16.3-yard mark. McKelvin gives the Bills a third explosive return option, and it's as of yet unclear exactly how the rookie will factor in (read: steal touches) from the two veterans.
Maybe it doesn't have to be viewed like that, however. McGee is certain to still factor into the equation on kick returns, even though he's the team's top cornerback; why can't the team then let McGee handle kicks to open halves or after short drives, when the defense isn't completely gassed? It's not certain that McKelvin will be seeing a lot of time early on defense; he's bound to be fresh - and thus available for return duty - after defensive drives which yield scores. Things get a bit trickier with Parrish; he's generally fresh for punt returns, so expect April to get creative and use McKelvin in conjunction with Parrish in two-returner sets occasionally (something he's done already during camp).
You see the predicament. Are there enough touches to go around for Buffalo's three explosive kick returners? In the end, it doesn't matter. The Bills will always have a fresh returner this season, and that player will always have the ability to score on any given return. That fact alone makes the trio stronger as a group than they are as individuals. That fact makes Buffalo's return game the best in the NFL - and Bobby April is one lucky special teams coach.