The Detroit Lions liked the potential they saw in punter Jack Fox after signing him late last year, which is part of the reason they let veteran Sam Martin walk in free agency.
But it's probably a safe bet to say that Fox's start to the 2020 season has surprised even the Lions a little bit.
Fox leads the NFL in gross putting average (53.1) and net punting (51.1), and was recently named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September. The Lions have allowed just three punt returns for a total of just six yards on the year. Fox has dropped seven punts inside the 20-yard line, which is tied for the second most in the NFL.
To say it plainly, Fox and Detroit's special teams have been really good to start the year.
But Fox said Thursday that early success is exactly that, early success, and it doesn't guarantee a great 16-game season, unless he continues to stay humble and continues to work.
"I never really go into a season or go into a game thinking about stats or anything like that," Fox said. "Just kind of take it one punt at a time and do my best at that. I'm just thinking about getting better and doing my best in practice and the game and really just taking it one punt at a time."
Fox said he's tried to zone out all the outside noise, but has appreciated reconnecting with some people who've reached out to congratulate him on the start of the season from his home town of St. Louis and at Rice, where he played his college ball.
Growing up in St. Louis, Fox loved to watch Rams punter Johnny Hekker when Fox was in high school. Fox said that's really when he started to come into his own as a punter. Hekker currently holds the NFL record for highest net punting average for a single season at 46.0. Fox is well above that mark early on.
But like a true perfectionist – which most specialists are – there are things Fox says he has to be better at moving forward.
"I'm kind of disappointed in how I've been kicking off," he said. "We really pride ourselves in covering kicks and being a tough team on kickoff and I really haven't given our guys a good enough chance to cover kicks. Just trying to get better at that every week.
"Then just keep it going on punt. It's been three weeks, it hasn't been that long, so just take it one punt at a time and one game at a time and just do our best to help the team win."
ORUWARIYE OFF TO GOOD START
Second-year cornerback Amani Oruwariye came up big late in Detroit's win over Arizona, breaking up a pass in Arizona's last offensive possession that helped force a punt around midfield. Detroit went 10 plays and 70 yards in four minutes and 49 seconds to kick a walk-off game-winning field goal on the following possession.
Oruwariye has quietly been playing pretty well this season for Detroit. He's been targeted 13 times in three games and has allowed seven receptions (53.8 completion percentage against) for just 95 total yards.
"He came into camp with that confidence and just went to work and competed at a high level," head coach Matt Patricia said of Oruwariye. "I really think he did a great job of coming in in shape and (being) ready to go."
Opposing passers have a 77.4 passer rating throwing in Oruwariye's direction through three games.
"He's had some tough coverage assignments and some tough situations that some of them have been really good," Patricia said. "There are others that we've got to work on and keep improving, but that's like everybody out on the field. He's got great length; he's got great speed. The more I think he plays, the more confidence he gets in all of that, and I think you see him make those plays. I think those things are just on the horizon, which is great."
BRYANT GETTING CLOSER TO RETURN
It's been a good sign this week that undrafted rookie tight end Hunter Bryant has been back on the practice field and doing more. He's looking like he's closer to returning to action after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury.
Bryant was one of the good storylines for the Lions the first week of training camp with his ability to make plays down the field in the passing game. Bryant caught 52 passes for 825 yards last year at the University of Washington.
When Bryant returns, which potentially could be this week if he keeps trending in the right direction, he'd give the Lions another receiving threat at the tight end position.
"Obviously, I think what he did in training camp, what we saw in his skill set, was something that we really liked, and something that we think can help us win," Patricia said.
There's a big jump from college to the NFL, but I really liked where he was progressing to, and I think that he's a guy that gives us a tight end position that can do a lot of things. When you get – especially the tight end position with some multiplicity and variability behind it – it puts a lot of stress on the defense. I think that'd be great for us."
- The Saints rank 32nd defending the tight end position on defense. They've allowed 29 receptions for 200 yards and four touchdowns to opposing tight ends in three contests. That could mean good things for T.J. Hockenson and the rest of Detroit's tight ends this week.