Sat, 26 Sep 2020

2020 training camp preview: Special teams

Detroit Lions
13 Aug 2020, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

On the roster: Matt Prater (kicker), Jack Fox (punter), Don Muhlbach (long snapper), Arryn Siposs (punter), Steven Wirtel (long snapper)

Key loss: Sam Martin (punter)

Best competition: Who wins the punting job?

We'll see if Wirtel can push Muhlbach for the long snapper job, but the tighter competition heading into training camp practices is likely to be who emerges as the team's punter after Martin left for Denver in free agency.

Fox was signed to the practice squad at the end of last season after the team was impressed with the strength in his leg in a tryout. Lions general manager Bob Quinn didn't draft a punter this year, which is a good indication the team feels pretty good about Fox's potential.

The Lions did sign Siposs, a former Aussie Football League player and former Auburn punter, after the draft to compete with Fox, but Fox is probably the more polished NFL punter heading into camp.

Twentyman's take: Wirtel was one of the best long snappers in college last season at Iowa State, but there have been many challengers to Muhlbach's reign as the Lions' long snapper over the years and he's easily retained his job. The Lions will have to start thinking about a replacement, but knowing how hard Muhlbach works when he sets his sights on playing another year, he'll be hard to supplant in that role in 2020.

There could be some competition in the return game with the Lions drafting running back Jason Huntley in the fifth round out of New Mexico State. He was a stellar return man, but unseating the All-Pro Jamal Agnew will be difficult, even as Agnew navigates his way through a potential position change from cornerback to wide receiver.

By the numbers:

4: Return touchdowns for Agnew since 2017, the most in the NFL over that stretch. His two return touchdowns last season were the most in the league a year ago.

4.5: Average yards per punt return for Lions opponents last season, the second lowest mark in the NFL behind only Houston (3.4).

15: Special teams tackles for Miles Killebrew last season, the second most in the NFL.

53: Made field goals of 50-plus yards for Prater in his career, which passed former Lions Legend Jason Hanson for second on the all-time list. Prater's 76.8 conversion percentage of field goal attempts of 50-plus yards is the best in NFL history.

71.4: Since 2018, Lions opponents have had a hard time converting field goals at Ford Field. Road teams are only 20-of-28 on field goal attempts at Ford Field the past two seasons, good for a conversion percentage of 71.4 percent.

Quotable: "Those two guys, they're both very talented," Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs said last week of Fox and Siposs. "I think they both have high ceilings. It's just a matter of going out and doing it. Neither of them has done it in a game. With no preseason that's definitely going to be a little different, but we're going to find ways to make it hyper competitive in practice and put them under competitive situations and we'll see who rises to the top. I'm really, really excited for both of those guys."

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