Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone filled another key position on his staff with Monday’s hiring of Danny Crossman as the Bills’ special teams coordinator.
Crossman, 45, has eight years of NFL experience as a special teams coordinator, including the last three with the Detroit Lions. From 2005-09, he had the same job with the Carolina Panthers.
Crossman, 45, and Marrone, 48, were teammates in 1991 with the London Monarchs in the World League of American Football. They served together on the same coaching staff in 1993 at the Coast Guard Academy.
“The relationships that you build as players are obviously very important and special. You go through a lot of adversity in this game, so we remained close,” Marrone said in a news release from the team announcing Crossman’s hire. “… Really we have come from the bottom up through this industry. We have stayed close and we have come to this point where we can work together again. He brings great enthusiasm to the room and he brings experience.”
Crossman inherits a special teams unit that was generally strong under former coordinator Bruce DeHaven.
The Bills finished first in punt return average (17.1 yards per return), fourth in kickoff return average (27.0 yards per return) and 12th in made field goal percentage at 87.5. That number was higher until the season finale against the New York Jets, when kicker Rian Lindell had two of his three misses on the year.
Provided the Bills are able to re-sign unrestricted free agent Leodis McKelvin, they have one of the top returners in the NFL. McKelvin returned two punts for touchdowns in 2012, and led the league with an 18.7-yard average.
“There are those in both the NFL and college who just have the innate ability to make big plays. Some guys are blessed with it and some are not,” Crossman said in the team’s release. “It is exciting to look at a guy with that caliber and possibly have the opportunity to work with as well as the other positions of the unit here.”
One area the Bills will have to improve is on punt coverage, where they allowed two return touchdowns (the kickoff coverage unit also allowed one).
The team finished last in the league by giving up an average of 14.8 yards per punt return. Buffalo’s net punting average with Brian Moorman and Shawn Powell was 37.8 yards, second worst in the NFL to the 37.1 yards averaged by Crossman’s unit in Detroit.
The swirling winds of Ralph Wilson Stadium can make the kicking and punting games more of a challenge than they are indoors at Ford Field in Detroit.
“Weather can impact special teams greatly,” Crossman said, “and that is one of the things you never know until the morning of a game. We will have the ability within our game plan to adjust accordingly for that day.”
In Crossman’s first season with the Lions, the team finished 15th in the special teams rankings compiled by the Dallas Morning News, which are accepted as the league standard. That number fell to 31st in the NFL in 2011.
The 2012 figures will not be released until next month.
Detroit this season averaged 31st on kickoff returns, 22nd on punt returns, 19th on opponent’s average start after a kickoff, 14th in kickoff coverage, 32nd in net punting and 18th in punt coverage. The Lions were the only team in the league to allow four return touchdowns in 2012.
“Many games are won and lost with special teams. It was important to our players and the organization to hire someone with experience. You want to make sure that you have someone that has experience and that can evaluate the full roster so that we know that we are getting the most out of our special teams units,” Marrone said. “It is obviously one third of the game and it is a very important part of it. That person has to deal with everyone on the team.”
The website footballoutsiders.com also does its own special teams rankings, factoring in five elements from that phase of the game: field goals and extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts and punt returns.
Crossman’s units’ rankings were 11th, 29th, and 30th, respectively, the last three seasons. The Bills under DeHaven finished 17th, 24th and ninth.
Crossman’s most successful season as a special teams coordinator came in his first, 2005 with the Panthers. That year, Carolina finished ninth in the Morning News rankings and fifth according to footballoutsiders.
Last season with Detroit, Lions kicker Jason Hanson set a franchise record with 134 points. Over the previous three seasons, safety John Wendling, a former Bill, tied for the NFL lead with 51 special teams tackles.
Crossman has 20 years of coaching experience overall, 10 each in the NFL and collegiate ranks.
“The thing I am excited about for what Danny will bring to our special teams is a system that plays to our players’ strengths,” Marrone said. “For our players, we are going to be able to evaluate what their strengths are and be able to put them in the best position possible for us to win.”