LIONS INSIDER

Lions expect change when it comes to special teams

Posted Apr 30, 2013

Both expected and unexpected change on special teams will result in a very different group for the 2013 season

Detroit Lions special teams has been anything but special over the last year.

There was the infamous back-to-back stretch of punt and kick return touchdowns surrendered by the Lions vs. Tennessee and Minnesota (both games resulted in losses).

Then there were the punting woes that lingered all season long.

Perhaps the crescendo was Stefan Logan downing a punt at the 4-yard line (he thought he was in the end zone) late in the fourth quarter of a nationally televised game vs. Atlanta, which the Lions eventually lost 31-18.

Changes were inevitible in 2013, but the Lions ended up with even more than originally expected.

  • Last season’s special teams coordinator, Danny Crossman, left to take a job in Buffalo. John Bonamego has replaced him.
  • Neither kicker Jason Hanson (retired) and punter Nick Harris (not retained) are with the team.
  • Logan was not re-signed, meaning the Lions will have a new punt returner and kick returner in 2013.

The area of special teams that’s gone unchanged -- appropriately so – is the re-signing of Pro Bowl long snapper Don Muhlbach.

David AkersK David Akers (Photo: Dave Mayo)

NEW KICKER

David Akers and Havard Rugland, both signed as free agents this offseason, will compete to replace Hanson, who retired as the team’s all-time leading scorer.

Both Akers and Rugland have big left legs, but Akers probably has the edge just one year removed from the Pro Bowl. Rugland has never played football.

Akers had 40 touchbacks last season, which ranked in the top 10 in the NFL. In contrast, the Lions ranked near the bottom third with 30 touchbacks a season ago and boasted a kickoff average of 62.2 yards, which ranked 30th.

The odds favor Akers to win the job and provide the Lions with a strong leg on the roster, but Rugland (a.k.a. kickalicious) will have quite the cult following in training camp.

NEW PUNTER

As far as punting goes, the Lions drafted Sam Martin out of Appalachian State in the fifth round of last weekend’s draft. They signed free agent Blake Clingan earlier this offseason.

The Lions have taken some slack drafting a punter so high, considering only two – Martin and UCLA’s Jeff Locke – were selected, but we shouldn’t minimalize how much of an impact a good punter can have.

Consider this: the Lions ranked 29th in the NFL last year in average starting field position (25.1 yard line). They also averaged 62.2 yards per scoring drive, which was the fourth longest behind only New Orleans, Carolina and Indianapolis. Those numbers are, in part, an indictment of their inability to flip field position via punt.

Punters have more of an impact than some fans give them credit for.

NEW RETURNERS

Last season, the Lions finished 31st in kickoff return average and 22nd in punt return average.

"I think that guys, when they're blocking, when they know that they have somebody back there that can break it they give just a little bit more," Bonamego told me earlier this offseason.

"That's really what you're asking from everyone. A little bit more effort. A little bit more attention to detail. A little more of everything and that can make a big difference."

The Lions have a number of candidates who could fill both roles on the roster.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: AP Images)

Reggie Bush, Ryan Broyles, Mike Thomas, Joique Bell, Patrick Edwards, Devin Thomas and newly-drafted rookies Darius Slay, Corey Fuller and Theo Riddick could all get a shot to win either job.

Bush, who the Lions signed to be an explosive element to their offense, has four-career punt return touchdowns and might be the best open-field runner on the roster.

Some say the Lions shouldn’t subject him to the potential hazards of returning kicks, but if he’s the best man for the job, the Lions shouldn’t play scared of injury if he can make plays.

Slay was an elite return man in the junior college ranks before he got to Mississippi State.

Fuller has terrific speed as a former track star and could be in the Lions plans on special teams.

“We see a lot of upside with him and we see a guy that’s got some ability possibly to help us with special teams while he’s developing,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Fuller.

Riddick handled kickoff duties for Notre Dame as a freshman and has the foot quickness to do it at the NFL level.

Don’t discount the Lions adding to that competition outside of the organization, either.

"Again, there are some areas that we still plan to add,” Mayhew said when asked specifically about special teams and the return game. “There are some spots where we need to add some players. I think you kind of identified an area that we want to make sure that we have it shored up before the season starts.”