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O'HARA: Braden Mann's familiarity with Lions could make him a draft fit

Braden Mann might have been more concerned with making travel plans back home to Houston than calculating his hang time and net punting average after a disastrous start in his first Senior Bowl practice earlier this year.

Mann had a good feeling about the relationship he'd established with Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was coaching the North team.

"Coach Patricia was really great," Mann said at the Combine last week.

The rapport he'd built with Patricia in a short period of time was important for Mann, given that the Lions could be in the market for a punter – in the draft or free agency – with Sam Martin likely to enter free agency after seven solid seasons as the Lions' punter.

But what Mann built came tumbling down – at least temporarily – on the first punt of that first practice.

"The first play of my practice, I dropped the snap," Mann said. "I picked it right back up and punted."

What followed was a quick exchange between head coach and mortified punter.

"He said, 'The first thing you've got to do is take care of the ball,'" Mann said. "I said, 'Yes sir. I got it.

"Then I kind of had to let that go a little bit."

Patricia didn't let it go completely.

"He put a little pressure on me at first, to see how I would respond," Mann said. "He stood a little bit closer to me on the next time. He was in my ear the whole time, which I kind of liked. It put a little pressure and got me to focus a little bit more – like a game situation

"The very next one I was like – 'Better catch this one.' So I caught it, made sure to, and I was rolling for the rest of the practice."

Mann was a record-setting punter his last two seasons at Texas A&M. He averaged 51.0 yards on 50 punts, with a long punt of 82 yards in 2018. In 2019 he averaged 47.1 yards on 57 punts, with a long punt of 68 yards.

Mann also handled kickoffs all four years.

As a junior in 2018 Mann set the NCAA single-game record with a gross average of 60.8 yards on five punts in a road game against Alabama.

Also in 2018, Mann set the single-season record with 14 punts of 60 yards or longer, and he had punts of 69 and 73 yards against second-ranked Clemson.

Mann's decline in gross average from 51 yards in 2018 to 47.1 in 2019 was not a result of loss of leg strength. He refined his technique to become more efficient, and with greater control. He had four touchbacks in 2019 compared to nine in 2018 and 26 punts downed inside the 20-yard line compared to 19 in 2018.

"That helped getting my coverage teams down there," Mann said. "In the NFL, for sure with these returned, you punt it too far to Tyreek Hill (of the Chiefs), and it's back in your own end zone.

"It's kind of a different ball game in the NFL because you get two gunners instead of all 10 guys who cover at once. So fair catches are an emphasis, as well as hang time over distance."

He continued to work on that at the Senior Bowl.

"Hang time and direction, for sure," Mann said. "It wasn't all about the long ball."

The Lions have had stability with specialists in the kicking game.

Don Muhlbach has been the long snapper since midseason of 2004. Except for missing six games with a foot injury in 2017, Martin has been the punter, holder and kickoff man since being drafted in the fifth round in 2013.

And Matt Prater has kicked field goals since signing with the Lions after Game 5 in 2014.

If Martin moves on, how the Lions fill the punting position remains to be seen.

Jack Fox and Matt Wile, who were on the Lions' practice squad last year, were signed to future contracts for 2020.

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