Buffalo Bills training camp officially begins in less than four weeks, on July 28 at St. John Fisher College. While you ponder how, exactly, summer can be whisking by so quickly, allow us to distract you with the first in a series of posts on seven major positional battles the Bills will be monitoring later this month.
We'll cheat a little bit and fold two competitions into one post, as the Bills are unsettled at both kicker and punter heading into the 2013 season.
Rian Lindell vs. Dustin Hopkins
For the first time in a long time, the Bills' kicking position has a story line entering training camp (no, last year's kickoff specialist experiment doesn't count). Lindell, 36, has been Buffalo's kicker for a decade. While his leg strength has decreased in recent seasons - Buffalo's previous coaching staff essentially refused to let him try kicks beyond 50 yards - he's also been a model of consistency, connecting on 34-of-39 field goal tries and all 64 extra point attempts in the past two seasons. (He was 1-of-2 from beyond 50 yards.)
Teams don't typically draft an All-American, record-breaking kicker prospect in the sixth round unless they're planning on said kicker winning himself a job, however. Dustin Hopkins comes into the NFL as the all-time leading scorer among kickers at the Division I level. He's got the leg strength that Lindell now lacks, and he comes at a much cheaper price (Lindell is entering the second year of a four-year, $11 million contract).
This battle is a typical camp battle between grizzled, steady veteran and talented, well-regarded upstart youngster. Hopkins may even be the favorite when camp begins, but Lindell has more than a fighter's chance here.
Shawn Powell vs. Brian Stahovich
Buffalo made a controversial move at the punter spot last September, releasing fan favorite Brian Moorman and replacing him with undrafted rookie Shawn Powell (who, like Hopkins, came into the league with an outstanding reputation, and from the same school - Florida State). Moorman and Powell ultimately finished Nos. 25 and 26 in the league in gross punting average, respectively, and were remarkably similar in net punting average and kicks downed inside the 20, as well. The logical conclusion: if Moorman's job status was tenuous, so is Powell's, even with admittedly more upside at this point in his career.
Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com has written a couple of brief blog posts this spring about Stahovich, the street free agent signing from May, and his bid to unseat Powell for this job after less than a season. The smart money remains on Powell, but this position is as up in the air as the kicker job - if not more so.
Debate: who wins these battles?
Hopkins and Powell enter camp with more hype within these respective battles - not just because they have been higher-profile additions within the past calendar year, but because both went to Florida State (which also happens to be where long snapper Garrison Sanborn went to school, as well). Lindell will have his typical strong camp and make a good bid for the roster, however, and there's no reason to count Stahovich out, either.
Who wins, Bills fans: Lindell or Hopkins? Powell or Stahovich?