MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Martin working toward another good season

Posted Jul 7, 2017

Sam Martin has plotted his offseason with a goal to stack another good season on top of his first four with the Lions to remain one of the NFL’s top punters.

Sam Martin has plotted his offseason with a goal to stack another good season on top of his first four with the Detroit Lions to remain one of the NFL’s top punters.

As a member of the brotherhood of punters, Martin also can look back to a vastly different era and appreciate the accomplishments of the late Yale Lary, a Hall of Fame punter and safety who set a high standard in 11 seasons with the Lions.

Although he never met Lary, Martin is well aware of what Lary accomplished with the Lions from 1952-64 – with two years off for military service. Lary died on May 12 in his hometown of Fort Worth. He was 86.

Lary played in an era when most punters and kickers also played regular positions on offense and defense. Smaller roster sizes made it difficult to have kicking specialists.

Statistics hold up over time, regardless of eras, and Lary’s stack up with the best in Martin’s eyes.

“I just knew he had all the (franchise) records,” Martin said in an interview before the end of minicamp. “I just knew his name for being the elite punter for the Lions for a while.”

Martin had more reflections on Lary’s place in history, but with his focus on the present, he feels like he has prepared himself to report to training camp in the best shape of his career. And that’s saying something.

“I feel really good,” Martin told reporters. “I feel like I’m more ahead of where I’ve been this time of year. Going into my fifth year ... I feel really good about where I am right now.

“I still have a few months to get ready for the season. I’m in a good spot.”

The 2016 season was Martin’s best. He started strong, setting single-game franchise records for gross (58.8 yards) and net (55.5) averages in the opener against the Colts.

Martin performed well throughout the season. He wound up ranked fourth in the league in gross average (48.5) and No. 2 in net (44.2), the stat Martin considers most important because of how it helps dictate field position.

Martin surpassed the minimum standard of 250 career punts last year to be eligible for the career rankings. With 282 career punts, Martin ranks fourth all time in gross average (46.9) and second in net (41.6).

Shane Lecher is No. 1 all time in gross average (47.5) in 17 seasons with the Raiders and Texans. Johnny Hekker is No. 1 in net (43.3) in five seasons with the Rams.

Comparing eras is difficult for any position, punters included, but the statistics speak for themselves in what Martin has done in his first four seasons, and what Lary accomplished in a career that began more than a half century ago.

Lary was as proficient playing safety as he was as a punter.

“I knew Yale was a very accomplished punter,” Martin said. “He did a lot for the team other than punting.”

Lary made nine Pro Bowls. He led the league in gross punting average three times. He retired after the 1964 season with a career average 44.3 yards. Only two punters who began their careers before 2005 have higher career averages – Sammy Baugh (45.1 from 1937-52) and Tommy Davis (44.7, 1959-69).

Baugh was a legendary quarterback. Davis was a kicking specialist.

Lary also had 50 interceptions, which is still tied for 35th on the all-time list.

Lary did not limp into retirement after the 1964 season. He played all 14 games as the starting safety and punter. At the age of 34 he made his ninth Pro Bowl. His season average of 46.3 yards per punt was two yards higher than his career average, and he intercepted six passes.

He made a mark on defense. On the third-from-last play of a 24-7 victory over the 49ers at Tiger Stadium, Lary delivered a crushing hit on 49ers halfback Bernie Casey. It was recorded as follows in the official play-by-play:

“Lary crashed into Casey to knock him down after the catch, and Casey was shaken up.”