Buffalo Bills' Special Teams: Preview and Rule Changes

Timothy YoungCorrespondent IMay 11, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Roscoe Parrish #11 of the Buffalo Bills returns a punt against the San Francisco 49ers  on November 30, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The 49ers won10-3.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

It's preseason and rookie Leodis McKelvin is waiting to return a kickoff at the Rodger's Centre.  The ball is in the air, and Duke Preston, Darian Barnes, and Courtney Anderson line up in the three-man wedge, with Justin Jenkins breaking off to create a hole for McKelvin to take it to the house.


"Personal foul, forming a wedge.  The ball will be spotted 15 yards from where the wedge was formed, first down."

Of course that flag was never thrown and that penalty was never called, but if the formation happens this year, you can guarantee you'll see yellow on the field.

The NFL passed a new rule that the wedge, a staple of any level of football since its earliest days, is now banned in the NFL.  The bunch on onside kicks and peel-back blocks are also now penalized.  This will most certainly change the way that special teams coach Bobby April sets up the return teams.

In an interview with Chris Brown, senior writer for the Buffalo Bills, April seemed a bit up in arms about the change.

"Any time you try to legislate hitting out of the game you’re going to run into problems because the essence of the game is hitting and contact. So when you legislate the essence of the game out of the game there is going to be a lot of compromising. There is going to have to be a lot of change involved.”

For an excellent special teams coach like April, this shouldn't be a problem, but from a referee's perspective, it puts far too much personal judgement into play.  Special teams is probably the most violent aspect of the game.  Physical specimens sprint as fast as they can at each other, and they expect them to ease up?

No one can be too sure how the rules will develop, but one thing you can be sure of is that the Bills will have another great special teams unit.  April received the Special Teams Coach of the Year Award this past April (ironically), and has the right men at his disposal to do it.

With a record-setting and league-leading 16.3 yards per return, Roscoe Parrish is as electric a punt returner as you can get.  His speed and athleticism made fans question why he was on the trade block before the draft. While many blew a sigh of relief when he wasn't traded, they may not have had to.

Running back Fred Jackson and cornerback Leodis McKelvin both did very well when called upon, with Jackson's highlight return coming on an impressive sprint down the sidelines for 34 yards in St. Louis last year.

Terrence McGee has always excelled in his kick return abilities, but when Leodis McKelvin was drafted, Terrence was ready to step in to purely a corner role.  McKelvin did an amazing job in his role, helping the Bills to an incredible 24.2 yards per return. The Bills also led the league in returns over 40 yards, and tied the San Diego Chargers with 43 returns over 20.

Punter Brian Moorman put up big numbers as usual, with a net average of 39.1 yards per punt, and Rian Lindell still knows how to handle the pressure of long shots in windy and unrelenting weather.

All of these players come back as the major special teams contributors, while prime special teams tacklers George Wilson and John Wendling will also be back on the field.

With the rule changes, it will be interesting to see what happens around the league in the return game.  Bills fans can count on one thing, though: It's bound to be exciting when Roscoe and Leodis are waiting deep.