Key loss: David Akers (K)
Making the cut: Sam Martin, Jeremy Ross and Don Muhlbach
On the bubble: Freese and Tavecchio
Best competition: Freese vs. Tavecchio
This will be a true competition in training camp and the most consistent kicker over the next three or four weeks will win a roster spot. It really should be that easy for special teams coordinator John Bonamengo.
Freese and Tavecchio weren’t overly impressive this spring and the competition seems close on the eve of camp.
The one edge Freese might have over Tavecchio in this competition is the fact he was drafted in the seventh round this last spring. If this thing finishes in a dead tie, that could give Freese the edge.
Twentyman’s take: Since taking over the Lions’ return duties in Week 8 last year, Ross established himself as one of the best return men in the NFL.
He didn’t have enough punt or kickoff returns to officially count in the final league statistics, but his punt return average of 16.2 yards would have ranked him No. 1 in the league with a few more returns, and his kick return average of 29.3 would have been fourth best.
Ross’ return abilities are going to give him an opportunity to contribute more as a receiver, too. There’s nothing coaches like better when it comes to the final 53-man roster than a return man who can also play a role on offense or defense. Ross will have a chance to make an impact in the slot.
Sam Martin finished in the top-10 in gross punting average (47.2) and net punting average (40.4) as a rookie and he contends he can get much better.
“I noticed lots of times, no matter what the result of the punt was, good punt or bad punt, my technique oftentimes would deviate between punts,” Martin said this offseason.
“Even if I hit a good ball sometimes I wouldn’t like my follow through. So the big focus was just getting more technically sound and repeating the same thing over and over.”
The Lions snagged Martin in the fifth round of the draft last year and he looks like he can be a top-five punter and a weapon for this team for the next 10 years.
By the numbers:
40.39: Martin’s net punting average in 2013 broke the franchise record set by Jim Arnold (39.63) in 1987
22.3: Average starting line for opponents after kickoffs last year, which was 10th best in the league.
5: Punt returns of 20-plus yards for the Lions last year.
“Sam has obviously got a live leg. He does a great job. He’s athletic. I anticipate that he’s going to continue to improve because, obviously, he’s only in his second year. He’s young, but he’s done a nice job thus far.”
--Head coach Jim Caldwell on Sam Martin