By Jay Skurski
Good weather early in the season and a run of kickers with strong legs have limited the Buffalo Bills' opportunities on kickoff returns.
The Bills have just four kick returns through the first five weeks of the season. Only the Atlanta Falcons, with three, have fewer attempts.
"It's definitely frustrating, but a lot of times we go into the games knowing -- based on the kicker in the past couple games, how well he's kicking the ball -- they're going to kick touchbacks," kick returner Marcus Easley said. "As far as the number of opportunities we get, they're coming few and far between. When we do, we just want to make them pay."
Easley has three of the Bills' four returns, for 55 yards, an average of 18.3 yards per attempt. Fellow receiver T.J. Graham has the other, for 19 yards. The Bills' average return of 18.5 yards ranks 31st in the NFL, ahead of only Green Bay's average of 12.1 yards on seven returned kicks.
Easley says the distance into the end zone in which he's give the green light to bring the ball out varies week to week depending on the kickoff coverage team the Bills are facing, as well as the strength of the kicker's leg.
"Most of the time they're kicking the ball out of the back of the end one, anyway," he said.
In the name of safety, the NFL moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35 before the start of the 2011 season. Predictably, touchback numbers have gone up.
"The reason for the change is for injury prevention and concussions, so for that reason, you can't be too mad at it," Easley said. "But if you're a returner, you hate it."
The Bills could get rookie Marquise Goodwin back in the lineup Sunday against Cincinnati, and he would likely take over from Easley as the primary kick returner. Goodwin averaged 42 yards on six kick returns in the preseason, and took one 107 yards for a touchdown against Indianapolis.
"If your question is would I love to have more opportunities, absolutely because we have players back there that can be special," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "The one thing is we can’t get frustrated and when the opportunity comes, not be ready. That would be the shame of it all."
taggedDoug Marrone | Marcus Easley | Marquise Goodwin