Lions rookie punter Martin worth draft pick
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Punters and kickers aren't the most popular picks in the NFL Draft.
Every once in a while, however, it’s necessary for teams to make that investment. They just can’t make a mistake and waste the pick. Otherwise, they’re going to look very foolish.
The Detroit Lions never regretted taking a kicker, Jason Hanson, in the second round in 1992, and it appears they have found another gem this year by drafting punter Sam Martin in the fifth round.
Martin not only has given the Lions a much stronger leg at punter, he’s pulling double-duty and also providing a considerable upgrade on kickoffs.
All of that improvement on hidden yardage has been one of the biggest differences -- albeit a little under the radar -- in a club that has a 4-2 record entering Sunday’s game at Ford Field against Cincinnati.
“I know there were a lot of people that questioned that pick,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “I would like to see where all those people are right now. I think it has proven out that he is a pretty good punter.”
Martin, the 165th pick overall out of Appalachian State, was the first punter that the Lions selected in the draft in 30 years.
Through six weeks, he ranks third in the league in gross punting average at 48.9 yards and fourth in net punting (yardage for returns and touchbacks subtracted) at 43.1 yards.
A year ago, Lions punter Nick Harris ranked 32nd in gross punting (41.5 yards) and 27th in net punting (37.6).
Detroit’s opponents also are starting drives on average just outside their 20-yard line after kickoffs compared just inside their 25-yard line a year ago when Hanson was kicking off.
The hidden yardage is making life just a little easier for the Lions’ defense.
“I’m happy with it but you can’t get content,” said Martin, whose 72-yarder against Washington is the second-longest punt in the NFL this year.
Martin didn’t start punting until he got to college. He grew up a soccer player and only spent one year kicking for his high-school team.
His first three seasons as Appalachian State’s punter did nothing to impress NFL scouts. He averaged 40, 39.2 and 40.9 yards before everything fell into place with his mechanics as a senior when he emerged as one of the nation’s top punters with a 45.9 average.
“I was not a consistent punter my first couple years -- I had a few injuries that hindered me a little bit -- but I knew I had the leg and the capability with the right coaching and the right experience,” Martin said. “I always heard from kicking coaches and other punters that I had the leg for it.
"I had a fast leg. I just needed to work on the consistency, the fundamentals and my confidence.”
During the preseason, Martin didn’t always trust his ability to get punts off quick enough at the NFL level.
It’s one of the biggest adjustments he had to make. His regular timing was fine, but he kept thinking he had to rush.
“I just had to chill out, take a deep breath,” he said.
He had to do the same thing after his first play in the NFL turned into a disaster. Martin was the holder for a field-goal attempt on the opening drive of the season and he inexplicably dropped the snap.
It also wasn’t his best performance as a punter, including his first attempt as a pro going only 33 yards to Minnesota’s 39-yard line.
“That was a freak thing,” Martin said of the botched snap. “I’ve never even dropped one in practice.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable that game. Every game since I’ve felt very comfortable.”
His ability to also handle the kickoff duties has been good for kicker David Akers, who is in his 16th NFL season and coming off a groin injury that affected him negatively last season.
After watching the rookie pound a kickoff with a hang time of 4.39 seconds, Akers said, “That’s a special talent.”
Martin, 23, welcomes the extra workload at his young age.
“It’s definitely more taxing on your leg, especially with kickoffs," he said. "You put so much into it, but it’s never been an issue like ‘Oh, I can’t focus on my punting because I’ve got to worry about kicking off.
“You’ve just got to be ready to kick more balls.”
The more he kicks, the more he punts, the better that fifth-round draft pick used on him is looking.
Injured receiver Nate Burleson is predicting quite a future for rookie tight end Joseph Fauria, who has five touchdowns already.
Not just on the field but off it because of Fauria’s end-zone dances.
“There’s no reason a guy that big, that tall should be doing those moves,” Burleson said. “I’m just curious to know, when he goes on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ if they’re going to get a tall dancer for him. Most dancers are short.
“That is his next step. I’m calling it right now. I’m first one to say it. He’ll be on Dancing With The Stars, for sure. California boy. See that big ole goofy Pee-wee Herman smile he has? I love it.”
--- Calvin Johnson, on the 6-foot-7 Fauria’s long arms: “He can probably scratch his knees standing up.”
--- Johnson played less than 52 percent of the offensive snaps last Sunday because of his ailing right knee, but he practiced Thursday for the second straight day and is expected to play more against Cincinnati.
“Definitely getting better,” Johnson said.
Offensive coordinator Scot Linehan expects to call Johnson’s number more this week.
“I would think so,” Linehan said. “It’s not an overnight thing to get back to 100 percent but he’s working very hard to get there. I don’t see why there’s any reason he wouldn’t be able to have a few more this week.”
--- The Lions re-signed cornerback Chris Greenwood to their practice squad while releasing undrafted rookie running back/return specialist Steven Miller to make room for him.
Greenwood, the club's fifth-round draft pick last year, was signed by the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season off of the Lions' practice squad. The Cowboys, however, released him this week, opening the way for his return to Detroit.