COORDINATOR CUT-UP: Who's the Lions return man moving forward?

Posted Oct 29, 2013

Head coach Jim Schwartz and special teams coordinator John Bonamego say Micheal Spurlock's inactive status Sunday had nothing to do with performance

Jeremy Ross made his season debut returning kicks for the Lions in Sunday's victory over Dallas.

Ross, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster before the Cincinnati game, gave the Lions a spark late in the third quarter with a 44-yard kickoff return. It was the longest kickoff return of the year for the Lions.

The return, which started the Lions offense on their own 37-yard line, resulted in a David Akers 20-yard field goal.

Jeremy RossWR Jeremy Ross (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

It was not, however, an opportunity Ross inherited as a result of regular return man Micheal Spurlock being benched. Spurlock was inactive for the game, but head coach Jim Schwartz said that wasn't a performance-based decision.

"I saw it was reported that we had benched (Micheal) Spurlock and that's not the case," Schwartz said during his Monday press conference. "I don't know if anybody noticed, we kept up eight offensive linemen. We had to keep up four tackles because of our injury situation.

"(Spurlock) happened to be the one spot we knew we were going to have a lot of defensive backs available for some of their four and five wide receiver stuff. It was just roster management."

In fact, the Lions went into the game thinking they weren't going to get a lot of opportunities to return kickoffs and punts anyway. As it turns out, they were right. They returned just the one kickoff and had one punt return (four yards by Ryan Broyles).

"The punter probably came out of his box a little bit, but he was a high, short punter and they weren't giving up many return opportunities," special teams coordinator John Bonamego told "Kickoffs played out just like we thought."

The Lions needed the eighth offensive lineman because of injuries to Riley Reiff and Jason Fox coming into the game, so the team kept Barry Richardson active.

Ross contributes more on offense than Spurlock and the coaches felt confident Broyles could be sure-handed and make good decisions back returning punts, with not many opportunities for returns expected.

"Late in the week we decided to give Jeremy Ross and opportunity on kickoff returns," Bonamego said. "As it turned out, Jeremy ended up going in to fill in for Ryan (after he ruptured an Achilles tendon) … and did a good job with opportunities."

Ryan BroylesWR Ryan Broyles (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

But it begs the question. Who is the Lions return man moving forward?

"I don't comment on depth chart stuff," Schwartz said.

The Lions were 21st in kickoff returns and 24th in returning punts entering the game, but Bonamego said people shouldn't be so quick to point at only Spurlock for those numbers.

"That would be unfair for Micheal," he said. "He made one of the biggest plays of the year vs. Chicago (57 yard punt return that set up a touchdown) and let's not forget this is a team game.

"Just like Matt Stafford, he's dependent on his offensive line. It's no different for a returner back there. There are a handful of guys that can make plays on their own, but most guys need to get started. We haven't done a good enough job setting up a return."

Bonamego also pointed to a couple plays last week vs. Cincinnati where Spurlock handled bouncing balls to avoid losing field position.

"It goes on record as a zero-yard return, but it's because he wasn't trying to return a ball," Bonamego said. "He was trying to keep it from bouncing and losing 15 or 20 yards of field position. Those are plays that effect his average but plays he takes for the team."

Both Spurlock and Ross have provided a spark in the return game this year. We'll see who handles the bulk of the duties the second half of the season.