The Bills probably aren't the biggest fans of last year's rule changes on special teams.
If the NFL awarded an “All-Return” team, the Bills could rank among the best in the league. Buffalo has a deep group of returners that includes some of the top performers from college and pro football.
“We've got some guys back there that have been successful in college and the league, and that's what you like,” special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said. “Not only do you have good depth there at this position, but you've got good competition because a lot of these guys like to do it.”
The problem is, you only get so many opportunities on special teams -- and last year for Buffalo, it wasn't enough.
The Bills had only 37 kick returns in all of 2011, tying them with Detroit for 25th in the league. In their first seven games of last season, they managed only six returns total. They were 23rd in kick return average (23.1 yards per attempt).
The Bills are hoping that changes because they have the players to make a difference.
QB/WR Brad Smith began last year as the lead kick returner; he led the league in kick return average in 2010 (among players with 25 or more attempts) with the New York Jets. At Clemson, RB C.J. Spiller established a new NCAA Division I record with seven kick returns for touchdowns (and is currently tied with Tyron Carrier). CB Leodis McKelvin had a combined eight returns for TDs at Troy (seven punt returns, one kick return), tying an NCAA record. Rookie WR T.J. Graham is the ACC's all-time leader in kick return yards (3,153). CB Justin Rogers is the Colonial Athletic Association's all-time leader in kick return yards (2,561).
That group doesn't even include CB Terrence McGee, the most prolific kick returner in Bills history. After dealing with injuries in recent years, McGee is strictly a cornerback at this point in his career.
The Bills began the preseason on special teams the way last season ended -- with Rogers handling kick returns and McKelvin handling punt returns, though Rogers missed the preseason opener with a hamstring injury. But DeHaven cautions that nothing is set in stone.
“I really couldn't even evaluate that at this point,” DeHaven said. “When we get through the exhibition season, we know we've got a lot of guys that have done that. To tell you where we're heading right now, so much of that is going to depend on how much guys are playing on offense and defense and anybody that's nicked up.”
Other special teams news and notes:
• John Potter continues to have a legitimate shot of making the roster as a kickoff specialist. He's displayed a strong leg at training camp and could give the team a boost in kick coverage.
“It just makes all the difference in the world if you can go out there and somebody's got a great kickoff returner and you can take him out of the game because the ball's already out of the end zone,” DeHaven said. “I know that one of the happiest guys in the organization would be (defensive coordinator) Dave Wannstedt because his guys will go out there and start on the 20 a lot of times.”
• Veteran P Brian Moorman has received some competition from rookie Shawn Powell, but his job looks secure heading into the season. Moorman has been much more consistent than Powell.
• Just like with the return game, the Bills have plenty of players who could fill the gunner role in coverage. But DeHaven will also wait to choose those players.
“I could give you 15 guys,” DeHaven said. “Basically, when I get to positions like that I kind of wait until after the last exhibition game.”
For more updates on the Bills follow correspondent Mark Ludwiczak on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLBUF and @MarkLud12.