Osgood is a pros pro in the world of special teams, a part of the game that he describes as “organized chaos.”
“It’s just as technical as every other part of the game,” he said of playing special teams. “If you have a kick go the certain way then you have to have the guys covering it this way and cut off the wide side of the field. You have to have a guy applying for the cutback part of the field. You have to play for the direct north and south return.
“Everybody has an assignment and role and they have to fill that role for everything to run smoothly.”
That hasn’t always been the case with the Lions’ special teams units through the first three games – the running smoothly part that is. The Lions are coming off an overtime loss in Tennessee, where they surrendered both a kickoff and punt return for touchdown.
The punt return was a bit of a fluke play because of the injury suffered by punter
But the 105-yard kickoff return was a backbreaker for a Lions team that had just fought back to take a 27-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The return team got pinned inside and rookie
Last week’s game was certainly a low point for the Lions special teams, but they have done some good on special teams.
- • Rookie linebacker
Tahir Whiteheadforced a fumble on a kickoff in the first quarter of the 49ers game that was recovered by Osgood and led to a Jason Hansonfield goal.
- • In the same game, a 40-yard kickoff return by
Stefan Loganset up a another Hanson field goal in the third quarter.
But those plays are overshadowed by the two touchdowns given up last week and the fact that the Lions rank dead last in the NFL in net punting average (31.0) and 28th in kick coverage (28.4 average per opponents return).
The Lions’ problems on special teams are not a talent issue, according to special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. They’re a result of having young players on special teams, and players who haven’t played with each other a whole lot.
“It’s like anything else, whether it’s on offense or defense or special teams, we’re six completely different teams and getting guys playing next to each other takes a little bit of time,” Crossman said.
“When you have a group that’s always together and you have the same three or four guys playing next to each other two or three years in a row, it’s easy and those things kind of take care of themselves.
“All the sudden you get a guy and it’s his first game playing a certain position and he’s playing next to a guy he’s never played before, he doesn’t always know how that guy is going to play and that little thing can be the difference between a big play either way.”
Coaches and players talk about the benefits of the Lions’ offensive line being together going on three years now and how knowing the guy next to them allows them to play as a cohesive unit. Osgood says teams that are good on special teams have the same cohesiveness.
“It’s exactly the same,” he said. “It’s like the offensive linemen, you all have to know your job and be at that certain spot and that certain times because you all rely on the person next to you to fill your side.
“When you have one guy going the wrong way it opens up a hole and as a person next to you, you feel that hole and compensate and it takes you out of your lane and it’s like a domino effect.
“If you have guys that are playing with each other for a while, you can cross, switch and loop and then everyone knows that, ‘When he goes down he’s going to cover it this way so I can play it this way.’ You can play games off of each other knowing what the players’ capabilities are. It’s a lot easier.”
More than half of the Lions kickoff team Sunday in Tennessee was comprised of players in their third year or less.
“This is 10 years I’ve been doing it,” Crossman said of his tenure as a special teams coordinator in the NFL. “Some years you have that nice blend of players where they’re back and you’re that lucky guy that knows exactly who we’re running out there and what position and we’re ready to rock and roll.
“But then when you’re churning a roster and have some issues and lose some people it’s an ongoing thing. I like our guys; it’s just going to take a little bit of seasoning.”
The new kickoff rules in the NFL have considerably lowered the number of returns – 32 percent fewer last year in the first season kickoffs were moved from the 30- to 35-yard line – making the opportunities teams do get to return a kickoff that much more valuable.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Lions are averaging 20.8 yards in six kickoff returns, which ranks 28th in the league.
Returner Stefan Logan has had a little bit more success returning punts, as the Lions rank 14th with a 10.5 yards per return average.
“Every opportunity you get to take it out and touch that ball you have to bring it out,” Logan said.
“But it’s also about being smart too and the situation of the game. You don’t want to make the wrong decision putting the offense in a bad position.
“Once your special teams have that connection and coach knows that you understand the game and each other then he can take a little bit more of a chance on things.”
Crossman, Osgood and Logan all agree that the Lions’ special teams units are only going to get better the more some of their young players get experience and the more they play together.
“That’s the NFL, sometimes you’re going to get the bear and sometimes the bear is going to get you,” said Crossman. “My biggest thing is the little things. There’s still too many things that we need to get cleaned up so we know exactly what we’re getting. Things are easily correctable.”