It took one golf outing for Oilers special teams star John Henry Mills to learn that temperamentally at least, he was no Steve Tasker. "We played in a tournament this past off-season, and I realized how high-strung Tasker was," says Mills of Buffalo's seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams. "He was always like, 'C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! Let's go, let's go, let's go!' I'm more laid-back."
But not when covering kickoffs and punts. In SI's midseason poll of NFL scouts and G.M.'s, Mills received the most votes for special teams players, making him the likely heir to the 34-year-old Tasker, who is now used only occasionally on kick coverage. A fifth-round pick in the 1993 draft out of Wake Forest, Mills has earned the nickname Skills in Houston for variously lining up at tight end, H-back, fullback, linebacker and kick returner. This season he leads the Oilers with 14 special teams tackles and has spent every week atop the scorecard of special teams coach Russ Purnell, who awards points for contributions in the kicking game. For the last two years Mills has served as Tasker's alternate at the Pro Bowl.
Unlike your typical crazed coverman, who speeds headlong toward the wedge, Mills, 27, plays under control. On punts he likes to blend in with the downfield traffic after breaking from his position next to the snapper, then burst out toward the ballcarrier. At 6 feet and 222 pounds, Mills outweighs the 5'9" Tasker by nearly 40 pounds; when he makes contact with a return man, his presence is definitely felt. "It's like when Lawrence Taylor was around and offenses always had to know where LT was," says Jaguars special teams coach Larry Pasquale. "It's the same way now with Mills, but on special teams."