Lions punter Sam Martin and the special teams unit will face a challenge Sunday in Browns returner Travis Benjamin. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — Browns punt returner Travis Benjamin might not have the track record of some of the returners the Lions have faced so far in 2013, but they spent plenty of time this week preparing for the second-year speedster, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the combine.
“Super fast,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said about Benjamin. “He’s made a lot of big plays, including last Thursday night. He’s a threat anytime he’s on the field. He gets a little bit of playing time on offense, but punt return is where he makes the most damage.”
Benjamin ranks second in the NFL, averaging 15.1 yards per punt return. In last week’s win over the Bills, he returned one punt for a 79-yard touchdown and had another go for 57 yards.
The Lions have done extremely well covering punts in the first five games this season. Opponents are averaging just 4.8 yards per return with a long of 11 yards.
Rookie punter Sam Martin — new special teams coach John Bonamego deserves credit, too — has played a key role in the early success of the Lions punt coverage team. The fifth-round pick is averaging 49.5 yards per punt, ranking second in the NFL. His punts also have had enough hang time his coverage unit has helped him maintain a 42.1-yard net, sixth in the league.
Against a player like Benjamin, Martin said sometimes it’s better to hit a shorter punt out of bounds than a 60-yard line drive that gives him an opportunity to create a return.
“I’m going to do everything I can to limit the returns by any returner,” Martin said. “Yeah, we’re going to emphasize it a little more with someone like (Benjamin), but we’ve gone against Devin Hester and Patrick Peterson, who were considered the two best up until now.
“Our coverage team has been on point, so with the help of them, if I’m hitting good balls, against any returner we should be effective.”
Benjamin doesn’t return kickoffs for the Browns — running back Bobby Rainey and wide receiver Greg Little have shared that duty — but in addition to the gaudy punt return numbers, he has five catches for 105 yards this season.
“He’s made good decisions, and obviously been able to really impact the last game and had a big return for us,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Benjamin. “He’s caught the ball and does the things you want him to do. I think his confidence level has increased, and he’s playing good football for us.”