Through his first four seasons in the NFL, punter Sam Martin was a model of consistency for the Detroit Lions. Starting as a rookie in 2013, Martin's net punting average ranked in the Top 10 in the league through each of his first four seasons. In 2015 and 2016, respectively, Martin's net punting average of 42.0 and 44.2 ranked fourth and second among the league's punters.
The Lions were expecting more of the same in 2017, and really, why wouldn't they have?
But an offseason foot injury prevented Martin from participating in training camp and landed him on the Non-Football Injury List (NFI) for the first six games of the regular season.
All of that time missed in training camp and to begin the regular season had a huge impact on Martin's performance once he was healthy enough to return in October.
Martin went from being a Pro Bowl alternate in 2016 to ranking 31st in net punting average last year with a career-low average of 37.6. It was the first time in his career he finished a season under 40.0 in net punting, as he was nearly seven yards off his franchise record of 44.2. Seven yards might not seem like a lot, but as punting goes, that's a huge discrepancy.
The 2017 season was admittedly tough for Martin, but he's put it behind him, and expects to get back to being one of the league's best punters again in 2018.
"He's crushing the ball," special teams coach Joe Marciano said of Martin earlier this offseason. "He's hitting 5.0's (hang time in seconds) out the wazoo."
So far during the open OTA sessions and last week's mandatory minicamp, Martin looked to be booming the football as well as he ever did.
"I'm feeling good," he said after last week's final minicamp practice. "I'm going through my progression like I do every year. I started a little earlier this year for obvious reasons, but I feel like I'm in a pretty good place right now and just trying to get better every day."
Martin has certain progressions he takes throughout the year to get ready for the season. It's a very structured plan he's followed every year he's been in the league. He feels he's right where he needs to be at this point to get him at his peak performance come September.
View photos from the 2018 Sam Martin celebrity softball game.
Last year, that progression was thrown off, and he never got back on track.
"This is the time that you can toy with stuff, figure stuff out," Martin said. "Get comfortable with rushes, get comfortable with snaps. A lot of that stuff you don't get when you're on your own. So, this is, I guess what you'd consider your comfort time.
"This is where you get in your zone, get in your rhythm. Cause when you come back in July, you've got to be prepared, you've got a couple weeks and we're in a game. So right now is where you start building your foundation and it's imperative. It's hard to miss this time of year and it's hard to miss camp and then get straight into it."
After what happened last season, Martin doesn't take this time, or the work he gets in training camp, for granted.
He seems to be in a good spot, and expects to get back to his Pro Bowl caliber ways in 2018.
"Right now, it's all 2018," Martin said. "That's all I'm thinking about. Just staying healthy, getting better, helping my teammates get better and having the best season I've had yet."