MIKE O'HARA

Rookie P Sam Martin validating Lions' decision to draft him

Posted Aug 1, 2013

Sam Martin has performed well in multiple punting techniques throughout training camp

An end-over-end punt by Lions rookie Sam Martin that looks like an ugly, wounded duck actually is a thing of beauty.

It is a result of using a technique that has become part of a punter's arsenal. When executed properly, it pins the receiving team deep in its own territory.

The land down under that has given the world Foster's Lager and the hard-rocking band AC/DC has exported a high, end-over-end punting technique called the "Aussie." It is increasingly popular and has made an impact on the punting game.

"It was a technique brought over, obviously, from Australian rules football," said Martin, a rookie drafted in the fifth round who already is proficient using the Aussie. "That's how they punted over there."

Martin gave a brief demonstration of the technique in the locker room after Thursday's training camp practice. Basically, the punter holds the ball vertically, with one point facing straight down, and kicks the bottom of the ball.

For a spiral punt, the ball is dropped from a horizontal hold.

Distance is limited with the Aussie, even with the same leg swing for a spiral punt. In effect, it's similar to hitting a golf shot with a wedge as opposed to a 7-iron. The ball won't go as far, and the action and spin of the ball control distance and placement.

"You could do a normal type of swing for the most part," Martin said. "You don't have to worry about blasting it into the end zone."

The other benefit of the Aussie punt is that when it lands, it will check up – again, like a golf shot. It is less likely to bounce forward into the end zone a touchback and give the receiving team possession at the 20.

"You used to hit that sky ball real high, up and down -- a normal spiral ball," Martin said. "You can easily got ahold of that and put it in the end zone. This ball allows you to swing harder, without it going in the end zone.

"And you have the backspin check on it, like a golf swing. It hits, and it can bounce backwards."

The Aussie technique is only one skill Martin has demonstrated. With every punt – Aussie or spiral – he is validating the decision to draft him.

The Lions have given their special teams an extreme makeover from last year. Pro Bowl long snapper Don Muhlbach is the only holdover among the specialists.

Also new from last year are the punters, Martin and Blake Clingan, kickers David Akers and Havard Rugland of Norway, and John Bonamego, the special teams coordinator who is highly regarded in NFL circles.

The punter most often credited with bringing the "Aussie" to the NFL is Darren Bennett, a former Australian rules player who got a tryout with the Chargers in 1993 while on his honeymoon in San Diego. He was signed to their practice squad and eventually made the regular roster in 1995.

Bennett spent the first nine of 11 pro seasons, 1995-2005, with the Chargers. His strong leg earned the nickname "The Thunder Down Under."

Another Australian rules grad who made the NFL was Ben Graham. He punted for eight seasons, including part of the last two in Detroit.

Head coach Jim Schwartz has seen how the change in punting techniques has dramatically increased the net average for punters in recent years.

Last year, 15 punters who attempted 40 or more punts had a net average of 40 yards or more. (Net is gross average, minus return yards.)

Andy Lee of San Francisco led the NFL with a net of 43.2 yards. Nick Harris, who spent most of the season as the Lions' punter, was 28th among punters with at least 40 punts with a net of 37.6.

Counting punters with 40 or more attempts, nine had a net of 40 or more yards in 2011 but only two in 2007.

The "Aussie" has a lot to do with that progression.

"It's really changed the way teams play the backed-up punt," Schwartz said. "You go back 10 years, I don't think you heard a coach tell a guy to fair catch the ball inside the 10. The old rule was you put your heels on the 10. If you had to back up, you let the ball go.

"Now, these guys with the back-spin ball are so pinpoint with their control and what they can do, they can drop the ball inside the five with regularity.

"It makes guys make a decision back there. If they let the ball go, you have a very good chance of getting it inside the five."