Rookie blocks punt, scores TD

Buffalo's Jason Peters doesn't look like your typical special teams performer, but he's making an impact.

Originally Published: December 19, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

CINCINNATI -- He is about the most unlikely-looking special teams player in the NFL, a 6-feet-4 and 328-pound behemoth who caught the attention of league scouts at the annual combine workouts, clocking an eye-opening 40-yard time of under five seconds.

Fact is, Buffalo Bills rookie Jason Peters doesn't even have a real position yet, and no one seems to know when he will. Listed as a tight end, his long-term future might well be at offensive tackle, given his size and quick feet. For now, though, Peters, activated from the practice squad last month, is basically a special teams player.

And for now, acknowledged Peters, who had one of the game-altering plays in Sunday's 33-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, that is plenty.

"As long as I'm helping out in some way, as long as people feel like I belong, that's good enough for me," said Peters, who blocked a first-quarter Cincinnati punt, then chased the ball into the end zone, where he fell on it for his first NFL touchdown. "I'm just here to do what they tell me to do and to try to find my place."

Finding a place on any NFL team's kickoff coverage and punt return units would be difficult for a player of Peters' physical dimensions. Getting playing time for Buffalo special teams coach Bobby April, one of the league's premier kicking games mentors, is doubly daunting. But in the four games in which Peters has been active, he has been able to make things happen.

The Bills special teams have already tied a league record for most kick returns (five) for touchdowns in a season. Kickoff return specialist Terrence McGee, with three scores and a likely spot on the AFC Pro Bowl squad, is an emerging star. Punter Brian Moorman is superb as is coverage man Coy Wire.

And now the special teams, and April, have uncovered another (albeit unlikely) threat.

Until the Buffalo offensive staff finds a home for Peters, with a decision not likely until the mini-camp sessions next spring, April is more than happy to provide him work. The former University of Arkansas tight end, who went undrafted despite his mind-boggling combine performance and signed with Buffalo as a college free agent, is a physical freak.

Guys his size aren't supposed to move so quickly, to have this kind of flexibility, to be running down under kickoffs as a wedge-buster. But after watching Peters in practice, April knew he could blend him into the special teams mix if coach Mike Mularkey ever decided to move the rookie to the active roster.

"We would use him against our own people in practice and, I'll tell you what, he just wore them out," said April. "We put him in the middle and our deep snapper hated to work against him. He'd go down and collapse the 'wedge' on kickoffs, I mean taking on three or four guys. He's big, he's tough, he's kind of an aberration. But, hey, he's our aberration, and I love it."

Peters is also, apparently, a quick study, as evidenced by Sunday's blocked punt.

April didn't necessarily do anything special in preparing for Cincinnati punter Kyle Larson. It wasn't as if there was some tell-tale videotape tipoff that suggested Buffalo might be able to get to Larson who, April conceded, doesn't not have a particularly slow get-off time on his kicks. Instead, the blocked punt came primarily because Peters made an adjustment.

Jason Peters, middle, is surrounded by teammates after scoring his first TD.
On the first Cincinnati punt of the game, Peters attempted to get into the backfield with a bull-rush technique, and was stymied. On the second, he opted for a "swim" move, a technique more often associated with pass-rushers, and slipped inside the block. Once into the backfield, he laid out his body, extended his right hand, and made contact, with the ball careening back into the Cincinnati end zone.

Peters out-raced several teammates to pounce on the ball for the score.

"What I liked," said April, "was that he was textbook in everything he did. A lot of guys will break through and won't lay out or extend their body. You've got to lay out and try to pick a spot where you'll intersect with the ball and that's what Jason did. It was a great play, really, and it demonstrated just how athletic the guy is."

Then again, special teams are characteristically filled with excellent athletes, all over the league. What sets Peters apart is his enormous size and the physical torque he generates when he gets all 328 pounds moving with such velocity. At least twice on Sunday, it was obvious that Cincinnati blockers on kickoffs wanted nothing to do with him.

"The first time guys see me running down under a kick, I'm sure they're thinking that it's some kind of mistake," said Peters, who has five special teams tackles in five games. "You can kind of see their eyes get big. I don't think they really want a piece of me when I'm rolling at full speed."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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