MIKE O'HARA

Sam Martin is learning just how different punting is in the pros

Posted May 13, 2013

There's a transition that every player makes going from college to the pros and punters are no exception

Sam Martin never had any doubt that be a punter the NFL would be different than college. It was reinforced for him when he woke up on the second day of the Lions' rookie camp.
Sam MartinP Sam Martin (Photo: T. Altman/Detroitlions.com)

"I actually woke up pretty sore," Martin said.

Surprised?

"Not really," he said.

"I knew at the end of the first day, my legs were shot."

The pro game is different for all players. They all have to make a transition from college. That includes punters. As strange is it might sound, there is more to being a punter in the NFL than swinging your leg and hitting the ball.

The ball is different than the one Martin punted in college. The workout regimen and pre-practice stretching program is different. That's why Martin's legs were sore after the first practice.

Martin expected that he'd have to adapt to a new stretching and weight-training program.

"I didn't really do any static stretching, as far as touching my toes (in college)," he said. "It was more dynamic – getting my leg swing. It's very active. Once I get used to that, I think it going to be beneficial. Obviously, the staff here knows what they're doing."

He has to adjust to kicking a different style of ball.

"It's shorter and a little wider," Martin said of the NFL ball.  "And it's definitely slicker. The wide factor, I like for punting. It's harder and it's firmer. It takes some getting used to.

"The NFL game balls are brand new, right out of the bag. They're hard to hit."

For the first time in more than three decades, the Lions' kicking game is getting a complete overhaul.

Long-snapper Don Muhlbach is the only specialist returning. David Akers has replaced Jason Hanson as the kicker. The Lions did not re-sign return man Stefan Logan or either of the punters from last year, Ben Graham or Nick Harris.

Martin was drafted in the fifth round out of Appalachian State to be the punter. The Lions also signed Blake Clingan before the draft, but the fact that they used a draft pick on a punter indicates Martin should win the job.

The Lions' kicking game has been as stable as the British monarchy. For 33 seasons they had only two full-time kickers – Eddie Murray (1980-91) and Hanson (1992 until his retirement in April). John Jett (1997-2002) and Harris (2002-10) punted for 14 years.

The punting job was in flux the last two years, and it bottomed out last season under Graham, who went on injured reserve after the third game, and Harris.

It was not a major surprise that the Lions would add a punter at some point in the draft. Coach Jim Schwartz was often critical of the job the punters did, especially Harris after a couple of short punts late in the year.

Based on his comments during rookie camp, it shouldn't be hard to improve on last season's performance. Asked what he wanted upgraded, Schwartz replied: "Every part.

"We were near the bottom in just about every part, from gross to you name it. "

The Lions were last in gross punting average at 41.4 yards. They tied the Eagles for 30th with a net average of 36.9 yards. They were 22nd, with 24 punts inside the 40.

Worst of all, they were one of only four teams that gave up two punt returns for touchdowns. Some breakdowns were caused by the coverage units, but Schwartz also faulted the execution on directional punting.

"That's a big thing we didn't do a very good job of, directional punt, last year," Schwartz said. "With the quality of returners in the NFL, you can't defend the whole field. You have to eliminate part of the field with the direction of your kicker.

"That only works if you can trust the punter to be able to punt to that window. There were way too many times last year that we were supposed to be punting to a window that the ball was somewhere where we weren't planning on it. We paid the price for it a couple times."