Tim Schmitt: Have special teams become a question mark?

Tim Schmitt

Dick Jauron interrupted his analysis of new Denver pass rusher Simeon Rice to throw a “God bless you” at a sneezing reporter during Wednesday’s media day, the kind of gesture that again confirmed the Bills head coach is never lost on manners.

Jauron is surprisingly calm and composed for a National Football League head coach, rarely speaking in exclamation marks. It’s simply not his style.

But as the snowball known as the season opener nears, Jauron has needed extra punctuation to end his sentences this week.

Question marks. And plenty of ‘em.

Is the running game that most thought would take a significant leap forward really as clumsy as it looked through the preseason? Is a defense that was designed to run to the ball better simply following it?

And most important, has a lack of talent in the starting lineups pushed too many former role players into jobs most never thought they’d hold?

For example, Coy Wire — who many expected would soon be looking for work at the beginning of last year’s training camp — finds himself in the surprising role of starting linebacker. Wire, who’s clutched to a roster spot through sparkling special teams play, has made a major contribution on kickoff and punt coverage through his five seasons in Buffalo. (That’s right, for those of you who caught it, Coy Wire is entering his sixth year of cashing NFL paychecks.)

With Wire filling in for Keith Ellison as a starting linebacker, he won’t spend the same amount of time chasing kicks. In fact, Jauron said Wednesday he’ll only be out there for a “select couple” special teams plays.

“A starter can still play special teams, but I don’t believe he can play all of them and stay effective,” Jauron said. “You do worry about it.”

And let’s think about the loss of Keith Ellison, who was a surprise to make the roster last year. Where other NFL teams lament the loss of high-priced free agents and top draft choices holding out for monster paydays, the Bills have stumbled to a plateau where former sixth-round draft choices have become pivotal players on a number of levels.

Making matters worse, since Wire, Ellison, Ryan Denney and Anthony Hargrove will be absent from the special teams units, the one and only exclamation that Bills had in their bag of tricks has also become a giant question mark.

“It’s just the nature of what happens with injuries,” Jauron said. “When you lose Ryan Denney or an Anthony Hargrove, those are big special teams players. Physically big. When you find guys like that that can run, it’s very rare. They’re a factor in our teams. We lose them, and now we lose Keith (Ellison), that’s a factor. Those are three guys that are taken off our teams that will hurt us.”

Buffalo has the best punter in the business, and a kicker who’s come through nearly every time he’s been asked. In Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish, the Bills have a tandem that strikes fear in opposing coaches.

But as interior problems have hurt both the offense and defense through recent seasons, will the same finally catch up to the special teams?

It’s an answer Jauron is hoping he can stomach.

Contact Greater Niagara Newspapers group sports editor Tim Schmitt at tschmitt@gnnewspaper.com