The Buffalo Bills have long valued special teams, dating back to head coach Marv Levy’s famous assessment— that it is, after all, one-third of the game. So it was different last season when the team’s coverage and return units struggled so mightily. As a result, the Bills have prioritized the oft-forgotten third of the game this offseason.
The special-teams units are mostly populated with backups, and linebackers are among the most popular backups to appear on coverage units. Given their athletic profile, this makes perfect sense. It also means that more players have a chance to make the team for their special-teams ability.
In today’s installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we profile a veteran special teamer who may find himself in a battle for his roster spot this season.
Name: Julian Stanford
Height/Weight: 6’1” 230 lbs.
Age: 28 (29 on 9/2/19)
Experience/Draft: 6; signed as UDFA with Jacksonville Jaguars following 2012 NFL Draft
Acquired: Signed with Bills as free agent on 3/14/18
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Stanford enters the final year of the two-year free-agent contract he signed last March. The pact calls for him to make a total of $3 million. In 2019, he carries a cap hit of $1,525,000; if the Bills were to cut him, they’d be on the hook for a dead cap charge of $175,000.
2018 Recap: Stanford played in 13 games, even starting one in place of rookie Tremaine Edmunds. He did most of his work on special teams, however, as he appeared on 225 special-teams snaps (51.25%)—fifth-most on the team. He appeared on 89 defensive snaps, 83 of which came in a two-game span against the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears. He made 15 tackles (one for a loss), and added one sack, one pass defended, one forced fumble, and one quarterback hit for his season.
Positional outlook: Stanford is joined by fellow incumbents Edmunds, Lorenzo Alexander, and Matt Milano—all of whom are expected to start. Deon Lacey, another special-teams stalwart, is also back, as is Corey Thompson. Newcomers Maurice Alexander, Juwan Foggie, Tyrel Dodson, and Vosean Joseph round out the group.
2019 Offseason: Stanford has participated in offseason activities thus far, and he even served as the signal caller for the second-team defense, according to Sal Capaccio.
2019 Season outlook: While it’s certainly no guarantee that Stanford will be on the roster come September, his status as a trusted veteran who knows the defense and can contribute on special teams gives him a leg up on the competition. While the younger linebackers on the roster could push Stanford as camp progresses, it’s more likely that Buffalo keeps some younger players in addition to Stanford rather than at the expense of him.