Former teammate Nate Burleson identified Jeremy Ross as the Detroit Lions’ "X-factor."
On a team with such offensive stars as Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, there’s still the need for an under-the-radar player such as Ross to make an impact.
Ross came out of nowhere last year to take on that role as the Lions’ return specialist after getting released early in the season by division rival Green Bay.
The expectations are getting higher for him now. There’s even speculation that Ross could add more duties with an increased workload with the offense.
The question is whether he was a half-year wonder or is he on the verge of even bigger things this coming season?
"When I think of Jeremy, I think of the word hungry," said John Bonamego, the Lions’ special-teams coordinator. "He came here very, very hungry to prove himself.
"It will be exciting this year to see what he can do, having a full offseason with us, full training camp, preseason. He came in and really was kind of flying on automatic pilot. He sees the field very well. He can always improve on fielding the ball, but he is a powerful runner. He’s a dangerous return man."
Ross, 26, was originally signed by New England as an undrafted free agent coming out of the University of California in 2011.
He appeared in five games with Green Bay in 2012 but then got dumped by the Packers less than a month into the season last year because of ball-security issues.
Detroit picked him up in early October, initially putting him on the practice squad before promoting him to the active roster just 11 days later.
The Lions had a definite need for a return specialist. Micheal Spurlock was averaging 6.6 yards on 22 punt returns and 22.5 yards on 15 kick returns.
In 2012, Stefan Logan had averaged 9.1 yards per punt return and 21.3 yards per kick return.
Ross quickly provided a threat that hadn’t existed for a couple years. Over the final 10 games, he returned 15 punts for a 16.2-yard average and 15 kicks for a 29.3-yard average.
The highlight came during a blizzard in Philadelphia when he scored on a 98-yard kick return and a 58-yard punt return.
"I felt like as soon as I got the opportunity, I had to bust on the scene," Ross said. "You’ve got to spark fast. You have to matter quick. They can always find another ‘OK’ guy. You have to make yourself needed, that when you’re gone, they have to be hurting without you. That’s what I’m trying to do."
He came here very, very hungry to prove himself.
Ross (6-foot, 215 pounds) earned respect from his teammates for his special-teams contributions and now the new coaching staff is showing faith in his potential as a receiver, too.
He received some opportunities with the first-team offense during offseason practices and continued to impress.
In fact, after praising Ross’ recent development, Johnson was asked if he expects him to have a bigger role with the offense this season.
"No doubt about it," Johnson said. "Ross has been great out there. Great offseason. He’s catching everything. He’s smart. He knows what to do. He’s in the right place at the right time."
Lions coach Jim Caldwell was very familiar with Ross before coming to Detroit. After getting released by New England late in training camp, Ross spent the 2011 season on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad, which was Caldwell’s final year as head coach there.
Caldwell clearly appreciates what Ross brings to the team.
"He has infectious enthusiasm," Caldwell said. "He’s always got a big smile on his face and is ready to go to work.
"There is a role for him (in the offense), there’s no question about that because he’s catching the ball well. He can run with it, obviously, when he gets it in his hands."
Ross is expected to continue doing that as the primary return specialist, too, because as long as he’s hanging onto the football, he can be a valuable weapon to complement the bigger stars on this team.