Bills cut Haack, clear the way for ‘Punt God’ to take over

Sports

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With a nickname like “Punt God,” Matt Araiza has all but assured himself a spot on the Buffalo Bills’ roster.

The Bills cleared the way for the rookie sixth-round pick with the booming left leg out of San Diego State to take over the punting duties this season after releasing returning veteran Matt Haack on Monday. Buffalo also cut veteran receiver Tavon Austin, who has failed to meet expectations since being selected by the Rams in the first round of the 2013 draft.

The move to cut Haack came after Araiza attempted just one punt in two preseason games. Araiza’s punt was impressive enough: a flip-the-field 82-yarder that dribbled into the end zone during a 27-24 win over Indianapolis in Buffalo’s preseason opener on Aug. 13.

Though the strength of Araiza’s leg was not in question, a bigger issue for the Bills was to see how the player adjusted to place-holding duties for kicker Tyler Bass. Araiza was new to holding after handling only the place-kicking duties in college.

Araiza proved to be a fast learner, handling most of the duties in two preseason games, including being the holder as Bass hit a game-winning 46-yard field goal against the Colts as time expired.

Haack was entering his second season in Buffalo and had two years remaining on his contract. The fifth-year player was inconsistent last season while struggling in Buffalo’s windy elements, averaging a career-low 42.9 yards per attempt and landing just 18 of 52 punts inside an opponent’s 20.

The 21-year-old Araiza hasn’t had to deal with cold weather much during his three years at San Diego State, where the Ray Guy award winner established himself as one of college football’s premier punters. Fourth downs turned into must-watch moments, with Araiza setting the major college football record with a punting average of 51.19 yards.

Austin, meanwhile, was the odd man out among a very deep group of receivers, led by Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie. Austin did not play in Buffalo’s preseason opener against the Colts, and he finished with just two catches for 18 yards in a 42-15 victory over Denver on Saturday.

The 32-year-old signed with Buffalo in June after spending last season in Jacksonville, where he had 24 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars were his fourth team in four years, with the other stops being Green Bay, San Francisco and Dallas.

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