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Buffalo Bills training camp preview: intrigue abounds on special teams

Kicker and punter competitions this year!

The Buffalo Bills jumped from the bottom of Rick Gosselin’s special teams rankings to 12th last year following the hiring of special teams coordinator Heath Farwell.

While the Bills clearly made strides in the “third phase” of the game, the team is also obviously committed to improving in all phases of the game. Last offseason, they concentrated on fortifying the coverage units as well as the return game, signing free agents like Senorise Perry (replaced by Taiwan Jones this offseason) and Andre Roberts. The next step seems to be replacing the more visible specialists—namely, the kicker and the punter.

In one of the shorter looks at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, we examine those who play solely on special teams.

K Stephen Hauschka

Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of three-year extension ($3.05 cap hit; $1.25 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 35 on 6/29/2020
2019 Playing time: 16 games, 134 ST snaps (32.4%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key 2019 statistics: 22/28 FG attempts (78.6%), 30/32 PAT (93.8%), 42/73 kickoffs for touchback (57.5%)

Buffalo inked Hauschka to an extension last offseason even though he was coming off a year where he connected on less than 83% of his field goals for the first time since 2009. For the first half of the year, the contract looked to be a disaster, as Hauschka was just 8-for-13 on field goals through nine games; that ninth game saw him miss two field goals in a 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. They tried to claim kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers, but were beaten by Indianapolis, who had a worse record. The following week, Hauschka began a hot streak and finished the year making 14-of-15 kicks, including nailing four field goals on four attempts against the Houston Texans in the playoffs. While that end looks good, it’s important to look at the big picture, especially as it pertains to Hauschka’s struggles from distance over the last two seasons. After hitting 14-of-16 kicks from at least 40 yards out in 2017, including 7-for-9 from 50 yards, Hauschka is only 21-for-32 from that area of the field over the last two years, including a miserable 5-for-12 from 50 yards or more. Head coach Sean McDermott has all but given up on attempts from 50 yards or more, electing to try for fourth-down conversions rather than kick field goals more often than not. Hauschka is a great guy, but he appears to be trending downward as he approaches his mid 30s.

LS Reid Ferguson

Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of three-year contract ($900,000 cap hit; $250,000 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 27 on 3/24/2020)
2019 Playing time: 16 games, 143 ST snaps (34.5%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key 2019 statistics: Didn’t mess up any snaps

The man who delivers the ball to punter Corey Bojorquez has done a darn good job since taking over for longtime Buffalo long-snapper Garrison Sanborn. He isn’t going anywhere.

P Corey Bojorquez

Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of rookie contract ($660,000 cap hit; zero dead money if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 9/13/2020)
2019 Playing time: 16 games, 144 ST snaps (34.8%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key 2019 statistics: 79 punts, 41.9 yards per punt (37.7 net yards per punt), 15 punts out of bounds, 26 punts fair caught, 13 punts downed, 34 punts inside the 20, 7 punts for touchback, 18 punt returns allowed, 157 punt return yards allowed, 1 kickoff, 50 yards

Who knew that you could find so many stats on punting? Thanks,! Anyhow, Bojorquez was maddeningly inconsistent at times in 2019, as he had a few games where it seemed like every other punt that came off his foot was a shank. The loss to the Baltimore Ravens comes to mind, where he uncorked a 67-yard punt for a touchback, then followed it up with a 35-yard punt from his own 10-yard line to give the Ravens great field position on their first scoring drive. He had more good moments than bad overall, but it’s that unpredictability that can shorten a career as a specialist. The Bills have already brought in some competition for Bojorquez this offseason.

P/K Kaare Vedvik

Contract status for 2020: Signed to reserve/future deal on 1/7/2020
Age: Turned 26 on 3/16/2020
Playing time: 1 game (with New York Jets), five special teams snaps
Key statistics: 0/1 field goals, 0/1 extra points, 3 kickoffs, all for touchback

Vedvik signed with the Bills on a reserve/future deal, and while he single-handedly gifted Buffalo a victory in his one game last season with the New York Jets, that certainly isn’t why general manager Brandon Beane opted to bring him in. Vedvik’s agent shared via his Facebook page that Vedvik is not competing for Stephen Hauschka’s job as a place kicker; instead, he’ll try to unseat Bojorquez at punter and also fill in for Hauschka on kickoffs. Vedvik has an insanely strong leg, as he once uncorked a sun-aided 92-yard punt while in college at Marshall, but he struggled, to put it mildly, as a placekicker last year. He punted against the Bills in a preseason game while with the Minnesota Vikings, allowing Marcus Murphy to return a punt for a touchdown (and making a pretty lame “tackle attempt” in the process). It will be interesting to see whether the Bills go with the one they know at punter or if they turn the reins over to the new guy next year.

K Tyler Bass

Contract status for 2020: Signed a four-year rookie deal this offseason ($656,054 cap hit in 2020; $184,218 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: Turned 23 on 2/14/2020
2019 Playing time: 13 games at Georgia Southern University
Key 2019 statistics: 36/36 on extra-points, 20/28 on field goals, 96 points, led Sun Belt Conference in field goals made

Bass wasn’t selected in the sixth round to be a camp body, and general manager Brandon Beane said it’s a legitimate competition for the kicking job. Without the full slate of preseason games, the Bills are going to have to manufacture pressure for him in the practice setting by putting his teammates’ eyes (and extra conditioning) on his leg. It will take a certain level of trust to unseat Hauschka, but it’s the third time in the past year they tried adding another kicker to replace the veteran.

Positional Outlook

The Bills clearly aren’t settled here, with competition at both kicker and punter. The inconsistency of both incumbents leaves them vulnerable, and we will have to see how it plays out. Our guess is Bojorquez and Bass are the names that emerge when the smoke clears. They may even look into a waiver-wire claim at punter like they did when they originally added Bojorquez a couple years ago.