Skip to main content


Presented by

2018 training camp preview: Special teams

On the roster: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach, Ryan Santoso

Key losses: None

Making the cut: Prater, Martin, Muhlbach

On the bubble: Santoso

Best competition: Who returns kickoffs?

Earning an All-Pro nod as a rookie punt returner, there's a pretty good chance Agnew earns an encore performance in that role in 2018. Agnew led the NFL in punt return average (15.4) and touchdowns (2) last season. His season average was the fourth best in Lions' history. We could see Golden Tate back there from time to time in a sure-hands situation, but it seems likely the electric Agnew will get most of the work returning punts.

Who the kickoff return man will be appears to be more open for debate. The Lions have a few options here, including Ameer Abdullah, who was one of the best kickoff return men in the league as a rookie in 2015.

Kerryon Johnson also returned some kicks in the open OTA and minicamp practices, as did Jace Billingsley. We know TJ Jones can do it too, and so can Agnew.

View photos of special teams players competing for roster spots entering training camp.

Twentyman's take: It's yet to be determined if the new kickoff rules will limit returns or encourage more of them. Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano will have a game plan for either scenario, and will also come up with a strategy of his own for kickoffs.

Abdullah is the most likely choice to return kickoffs, if that's the way the Lions want to go. He has experience doing it, and he is still very much a threat out of the backfield as a receiver.

Prater is as solid as they come as a place kicker, and Muhlbach is Muhlbach, so that just leaves Martin to talk about.

The foot injury he suffered last July away from football forced him to miss training camp and the first six weeks of the season. That time in July and August is when kickers and punters build up their strength and get their timing down. To miss that really hurt Martin. He was never the same when he returned. He had career lows in punting average (43.4) and net punting (37.6). The expectation for him in 2018 is to return to his Pro Bowl-caliber form, as long as he stays healthy.

By the numbers:

18.2: The Lions ranked last in the NFL last season in kickoff returns, averaging just 18.2 yards per return.

6th: Detroit finished sixth overall in Rick Gosselin's comprehensive 2017 special teams rankings.

53: Times Muhlbach has snapped for a successful 50-yard field goal, the most in the NFL since 2000.

130: Points last year for Prater, making him just the second player in franchise history (Jason Hanson) to reach 130 points in a season.

30+: Prater has recorded back to back 30-plus made field goal seasons, becoming the first player in team history to accomplish that feat.

Quotable: "I think you're going to see a couple different strategies," Marciano said this offseason of the new kickoff rule. "Probably a time and place for both strategies. Hang that ball to the goal line and let's go. Let's pin them in there. We've done that several times last year and we were very successful. Our guys were mad when we told Sam (Martin) to kick it out of the end zone. They didn't want it. Our guys were hungry.

"But then if you score and it's a two possession game with three minutes to go, kick the ball out of the end zone. Don't give them an opportunity to return.

"There's going to be a time and place to kick the ball out of the end zone and a time and place to hang it high. Depending on people's formations, there might be a time to bloop the ball over the front and let it hit and roll and see who's going to come up with it. There's a lot of things to experiment with."

Related Content