Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia speaks often about how much he values special teams and their importance in the overall makeup of his football team. That philosophy has been put to action this offseason as the Lions have begun building their 2020 roster.
Detroit's special teams were pretty good overall last year, coming in at No. 10 in Rick Gosselin's annual rankings of special teams based on 22 different categories, but Detroit's aiming to be even better in 2020.
"Sure, special teams is a big part of it in what we do," Patricia said last season during training camp. "We meet as a coaching staff – offense, defense, special teams – and everybody talks about the players and go through that. One of the things we all have to identify is what are their special teams roles. How many different roles can you play and how many different ways can you help the team?
"I think that's a conversation that we always have and we always stress the importance to the players that that's part of your job ... everybody's really got to be ready to go on special teams in some form or facet."
View photos of the specialists working out at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
The Lions' special teams makeover this offseason started with the hiring of Brayden Coombs as coordinator. Coombs comes from Cincinnati, where he learned under well-respected and longtime Bengals coordinator Darrin Simmons. Cincinnati ranked No. 2 overall on Gosselin's 2019 special teams rankings.
Lions safety Miles Killebrew and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the NFL last season in special teams tackles with 15 and 13. Reeves-Maybin is still under contract for 2020. The Lions re-signed Killebrew this offseason.
Detroit also signed cornerback Tony McRae in free agency. He has familiarity with Coombs and his schemes as one of Cincinnati's best special teams players a year ago.
Former Vikings safety Jayron Kearse was a key component to Minnesota's special teams last season, and also signed with Detroit in free agency. He played 271 snaps on defense and 231 on special teams. He was a starter on all four special teams units for the Vikings last year.
The Lions also signed former 49ers linebacker Elijah Lee, who was a key player on San Francisco's special teams units. He played 20 snaps on special teams in this year's Super Bowl, the highest among 49ers players.
View photos of linebacker Elijah Lee. Photos courtesy Associated Press.
The biggest change on special teams for the Lions in 2020 is that they'll have new punter. Sam Martin, Detroit's punter the last seven seasons, reportedly agreed to terms with Denver in free agency. Martin ranked 18th in the NFL in punting average (45.3) and 12th in net average (41.8) last season.
The Lions have punters Matt Wille and Jack Fox currently on the roster, and could add a rookie in April's NFL Draft. The team worked with Texas A&M punter Braden Mann at the Senior Bowl. He's considered one of the top punter prospects in the draft.
Detroit's definitely had an eye on special teams in their free agency game plan, and there could be some really good competition on the horizon and some tough decisions to make in training camp on special teams.