By Ashley Dunkak

Few hearts flutter at the sight of a punter.

It is just the truth. The job is not a glamorous one – not particularly well compensated, relatively speaking, and hardly ever celebrated.

Despite its lack of popular appeal, however, an improved punt game, as part of an all-around better special teams unit, is necessary for a Detroit Lions resurgence in 2013.

After all, the beauty of a punt is that, even after a failure to score in the previous possession, a team still has the opportunity to put the other team’s offense as far away from the end zone as possible.

Making a team drive 90 yards to score instead of 70 yards? 80 yards instead of 50 yards? Oh yes. It might not be pretty, but there is power in a punt.

Of course, in addition to distance, it is important that a punter leave the football in the air long enough that guys can get down the field to stop the advance of the ball. The more time, the better.

Based on what he saw in Friday’s preseason game, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is optimistic.

“Much improved punt game,” Schwartz said. “Very good hang time by both Blake [Clingan] and Sam [Martin]. Coverage sort of went hand in hand with that. It’s a lot easier to cover when they’re hitting the roof with these punts.”

The Lions signed Clingan, who played at Central Florida, as a free agent this year, and they drafted Martin from Applachian State in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, 137th overall. Both impressed the coach, particularly Martin as a rookie.

“It’s no guarantee that [kicking deep is] going to get [the opponent] down, but it makes it very difficult for them,” Schwartz said. “It wasn’t just the depth; it was the hang time. The combination of both of those was very important … We weren’t surprised by that. That’s why we drafted Sam. So affirmation of what we saw rather than being surprised.”

The coach found his team’s kickoffs similarly satisfying.

“With kickoffs, they weren’t going to bring them out, and even when they brought them out, some of them, on Havard [Rugland] in the second half, his hang time was good enough it gave guys time to get down there and cover,” Schwartz said. “We were near the bottom in just about every kickoff category last year from kicking, like touchbacks and depth and things like that.

“Same thing with punt,” he added, “and it looks like we’ll be much improved in both of those positions.”

Schwartz will have another chance to evaluate the special teams unit in game action Thursday, when the Lions travel to face the Cleveland Browns in the second preseason game.


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