MIKE O'HARA

O’HARA’S FRIDAY FOCUS: Jeremy Ross didn’t wait long to make an impression

Posted Aug 15, 2014

The 49 yard kickoff return Jeremy Ross started his preseason with is a sign of what can come from him this season as a key member of the Lions’ special teams.

Jeremy Ross didn’t have to wait as long as last year to make an impression with the Lions.

Ross caught the first kickoff of the preseason at the goal line and returned it 49 yards to put the Lions in position to drive to a field goal on their first possession and take a 3-0 lead over the Browns.

The return was a sign of what can come from Ross this season as a key member of the Lions’ special teams.

Jeremy RossWR Jeremy Ross (Photo: Detroit Lions)

It’s also a reminder of the lift he provided last year. He was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 9, two weeks after he’d been released by the Packers, and promoted to the active roster on Oct. 19 when Nate Burleson went out for an extended period with a broken arm.

Ross gave the Lions the consistent threat on punt and kickoff returns that they’d been lacking, and he also contributed as a backup receiver.

He wanted to demonstrate quickly this year that last season wasn’t a fluke. A big return on the first kickoff helped do that. He’d like to continue it in Friday night’s second preseason game at Oakland.

“I think it was good,” Ross said of the start for the kickoff return unit. “We kind of set the tempo for the type of return team we’re going to be this year. We were really excited as a unit to get out there. We think we can do something special.

“It was good to get out there on the first one and make a big play.”

Special teams are an emphasis every season, and this year is no exception. Last year the Lions changed kickers – from Jason Hanson to David Akers – and drafted punter Sam Martin. This year the kicking competition is between seventh-round draft pick Nate Freese and free agent Giorgio Tavecchio.

Ross was one of the league’s best after taking over the return game last year. He had only 15 punt returns and 15 kickoff returns and didn’t qualify for the official rankings. However, his stats stood on their own.

He averaged 29.3 yards on kickoff returns, which was fifth highest of anyone with at least 15 returns. On punts, he averaged 16.2 yards, the highest of anyone with 15 or more returns.

In the Lions’ loss to the Eagles he had two return touchdowns – 98 yards on a kickoff and 58 on a punt.

Ross is more than a straight-line return man who relies only on speed. He can change direction, and his size – 6 feet and 215 pounds – helps him survive the pounding.

“He’s got natural vision,” Coach Jim Caldwell said. “He has a really good feel for the return game, and he’s got some guys out in front of him that do a good job blocking as well.

“There are a lot of big hits, and the bigger you are, the more you can withstand. He’s got some girth, and he’s got some speed.”

Special teams 2013 stats: It was a mixed bag for the Lions in team rankings for their coverage and return units. They were in the top half in three of four categories.

In average return by opponents, they were 10th in punts at 7.8 yards but 30th in kickoffs at 26.4.

For their own returns, they were 11th on kickoffs with a 24.0 average and 13th on punts at 10.3.

In the long run – long punt returns – they stood out with four punt returns of 40 yards or longer. Only the Steelers had more, with five.

“The kicking game is extremely important to us,” Caldwell said. “That’s why we spend a lot of time on it. We don’t just give it lip service, and I think it’s going to bear fruit for us.”

Matchup focus: The Lions’ offensive linemen should get a tougher test than last week, based on how the Raiders performed in their 10-6 loss at Minnesota in their first game.

The Raiders had six quarterback sacks, eight tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception. The Browns had one sack and three tackles for loss along with five pass breakups but no interceptions.

There’s also a certain amount of mayhem that can be expected from the Raiders. They had 13 penalties in the first game.

Lions-Raiders history: They last met in the regular season in 2011 – a 28-27 victory for the Lions at Oakland on a last-minute TD pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, and an extra point by Jason Hanson.

2014 preseason: The Lions are 1-0, with a 13-12 victory over the Browns at Ford field. Oakland is 0-1, with a 10-6 loss at Minnesota.

Raiders’ major offseason additions: They traded for quarterback Matt Schaub and got wide receiver Greg Little on waivers. In free agency they signed running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Justin Tuck, cornerback Carlos Rogers, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and wide receiver Jason Jones, among others.

Their top draft picks were linebacker Khalil Mack (first round) and quarterback Derek Carr (second).