There are a lot of changes on offense and defense in Detroit this offseason and that extends to the special teams units as well.
Dave Fipp is the new special teams coordinator, long-time kicker Matt Prater left in free agency, and Detroit will be looking for a new return man and a couple cover guys.
Fipp does inherit punter Jack Fox, who earned second-team All-Pro honors in his first season in 2020.
Fox said this offseason there's still plenty of ways he can get better heading into his second season, and Fipp agrees. Fox's first season was the best debut by a punter in NFL history, as both his gross (49.1) and net average (44.8) were the highest in a player's first season.
"I'd say there's a bunch of areas he can get better," Fipp said of Fox. "I'd think he'd say the same thing. I would say a bunch of situational stuff, when the ball's getting closer to midfield, maybe, what are we doing in those situations?
"I think for all these punters they're trying to develop maybe some other punts in their game so that they have some other things that they can do, not just one thing. You've seen some guys hit like a spinner kick, stuff like that, so there's always room for improvement, I think, with all these guys."
Fipp also mentioned Fox's continued development as a placeholder.
"Holding's another one for him, just getting more comfortable with that whole operation and all that stuff," he said. "Last year he was working two snappers, he had one kicker. This year we got two snappers, two kickers, so he's seeing the ball come back from a couple different people. There's some different operations."
Whether Fox will be receiving snaps from veteran Don Muhlbach or youngster Scott Daly in the regular season will work itself out in the coming months. A full season for Muhlbach in 2021 would push him to fifth all-time in the most games played with a single franchise at 277.
"Anytime I have two players (at same position) I tell these guys it's a competitive situation," Fipp said. "It's definitely competitive. It's going to be hard to beat out Don. He's obviously a great player and Daly's got his hands full.
"That being said, just like with everybody, we're looking at everybody out there, not just the guys on the roster but guys on other rosters. Some teams have two, who else is out there? So this game's always competitive, no matter who's on your own roster."
Detroit will have a new kicker for the first time since the 2014 season after Prater moved on to Arizona in free agency. Detroit signed Matthew Wright to a futures contract after the season and added veteran Randy Bullock in free agency. Bullock is 168-for-202 (83.3 percent) kicking field goals throughout his career. He was 21-of-26 with a long of 55 yards last year for Cincinnati. Wright was 4-for-4 in three games played for Pittsburgh last year.
Fipp will also be on the lookout for a new returner after All-Pro return man Jamal Agnew signed with Jacksonville this offseason.
Detroit signed Kalif Raymond in free agency. He might be the favorite to land the punt and kick return jobs after handling both duties for Tennessee last year. Detroit will have competition there too, as Fipp said safety D'Angelo Amos and wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, Victor Bolden and Tom Kennedy could also be in the mix. Amos is an interesting candidate after returning five punts for touchdowns in three seasons at James Madison before transferring to Virginia for his senior season.
"We're working a lot of those guys right now," Fipp said about the return job. "They caught some balls off Jack's foot (in practice last week)… and they've been working the JUG (machine) after practice. But at the end of the day, these guys are all just going to get a bunch of reps right now and then as we get closer to training camp we'll sort out kind of who's in front of who."
Also gone from last year is leading special teams tackler Miles Killebrew, who tied for fifth in special teams tackles last season. He had the third most special teams tackles in the NFL over the last five seasons.
The Lions did re-sign special teams ace Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and have some opportunities for other players to step up in coverage roles.
"Like I told the guys don't worry about the depth chart," Fipp said. "That don't mean anything right now. That's all going to come out in the fall, preseason games, training camp, when the game gets more real and competitive, the pads go on and all that stuff.
"So right now is really just, for me it's actually one of my favorite times of the year because you're not worried about the outcome and all that and you have time to invest in players. So right now it's just about trying to make guys as good as we can get them so that they've got a chance to be competitive in the fall."
Lions general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell are trying to promote competition across the roster, and there should be a lot of it when it comes to how Detroit puts together the special teams units heading into the season.