If you’re searching for some good news about the Buffalo Bills as they head into the bye week, there’s this: The team leads the NFL in both kickoff and punt return average.
Through seven weeks, the Bills are averaging 30.8 yards per kick return and 24.0 yards per punt return. Those numbers have been boosted from touchdowns by both return teams – an 89-yard kick return by Brad Smith on Sunday against Tennessee and an 88-yard punt return by Leodis McKelvin in Week Two against Kansas City.
“Obviously, Bruce does a great job with organizing the return aspect of the game,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “He does a good job with all of it, don’t get me wrong, but what shows up this year is the return game. …
“I think this year we’ve got a lot of confidence in our return game, both kickoff and punt return. Those guys really work hard at it, and we’ve got some good returners.”
McKelvin’s average of 24.0 yards per punt return is almost 10 yards better than any other player in the league (Miami’s Marcus Thigpen is averaging 14.5 yards per return).
The Bills have sent McKelvin and Smith deep on kick returns. Gailey explained how they determine when to let them bring the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs.
“We do that game by game. Some weeks it’s 4 , some weeks it’s 7. We just make a determination by what kind of kicker he is. Is he a line-drive kicker, or does he get it high? What kind of cover team are they?” Gailey said. “We make that decision week by week and sometimes kick by kick, depending on where we are in the game.”
On Smith’s touchdown, he got solid lead blocks from defensive tackle Alex Carrington and linebacker Nigel Bradham.
“Those guys never get talked about, and they’re doing an unbelievable job in a lot of areas,” Gailey said of the return units’ blockers.
Gailey on why he kept kickoff specialist John Potter inactive Sunday: “We had not been getting the number of touchbacks. They’ve been good kicks. They’ve been real good kicks, but one of the advantages is having touchbacks, where you don’t have to cover and you don’t have to take the licks. We knew it was going to be a windy day and we were hopefully going to be kicking with the wind a lot, so it worked out that we just deactivated him and let Rian do the kickoffs.”
The Bills will make the decision to use Potter on a week-to-week basis. Asked how long the team can afford to keep Potter on the 53-man roster if he’s not going to play, Gailey said simply: “Good question.”
Right guard Kraig Urbik returned to practice and was able to fully participate Wednesday.
“All signs are pointing to him being back and ready to roll next week,” Gailey said.
That’s good news for the Bills, as Urbik’s backup, Chad Rinehart, suffered a long-term ankle injury Sunday against Tennessee.
“That could be possible after we get the full evaluation of everything and see what they need to do,” Gailey said of Rinehart going to injured reserve.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn worked out on his own Wednesday, and also has a chance to play against the Texans.
Not practicing Wednesday were left guard Andy Levitre, cornerback Terrence McGee (knee), defensive end Mario Williams (wrist) and defensive end Mark Anderson (knee). Levitre had an undisclosed procedure, according to Gailey, but should return to practice Monday.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and defensive end Chris Kelsay were limited participants in practice.
Carrington confirmed to The Buffalo News he’s been fined $7,800 by the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty he was assessed in the first quarter of Sunday’s 35-34 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills’ defensive tackle was flagged 15 yards following a kick return by McKelvin after the Titans’ first touchdown. Carrington was blocking and knocked Titans linebacker Patrick Bailey to the ground.
“I don’t agree,” said Carrington, who will appeal the fine. “The play was still going. He was running toward the ball. Hopefully I’ll get overturned or reduced or something.”