July 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lions training camp position previews: Quarterbacks and special teams

This is the seventh and final installment in a series of position previews in advance of Lions training camp. Today: Quarterbacks and special teams. See the roster breakdown in the gallery above or by clicking here .

Quarterbacks

As he prepares for his sixth NFL season, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford remains one of the biggest enigmas in the league.

Stafford has one of the most talented arms in the NFL, but his decision-making and lazy footwork have prevented him from consistently playing to his full potential.

In 2011, everything came together for Stafford as he threw for 41 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, 5,038 yards and completed 63.5 percent of his passes. But in the two years since, Stafford has regressed with his completion percentage and yardage decreasing each season, while his interceptions have increased.

Entering his sixth season and being tutored by three different coaches on the Lionsí staff, the team has high expectations that Stafford can return to his 2011 form. The Lions also added a sure-handed receiver in Golden Tate and a big-play tight end in Eric Ebron, so all the pieces are in place for him to be successful.

If the Lionsí offensive line plays as well as it did last season and Stafford improves his footwork and decision making under coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter, Detroit will have one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league.

Behind Stafford, the Lions have a veteran backup in Dan Orlovsky, and Kellen Moore and rookie James Franklin will battle for a No. 3 job that isnít sure to exist under Caldwell.

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A common defense for Staffordís play the past two seasons is that his receivers drop too many passes. The Lions led the NFL with 58 drops in 2013, but a look at all of those drops shows that many of those were not the receiversí fault.

Of those 58, it would only be fair to label 35 of them true drops. Many of the other 23 were behind, ahead, too high, too low or too fast to expect receivers to make a routine catch.

One good example is from Week 13 against the Packers when running back Joique Bell was credited with a drop on a screen. On the play, Stafford threw a laser from a low arm slot to Bell, who was immediately leveled by linebacker Clay Matthews.

Bell was charged with another drop in Week 2 against the Cardinals when Stafford threw a short pass to him on a curl when Bell was covered and hindered by an official before the pass came.

Even if those 23 passes were labeled incomplete passes, 35 drops wouldíve ranked in the top 10 last season, but the teamís drop rate wouldíve improved from 9.1 percent, worst in the NFL, to 5.5 percent, which would be 18th.

The Lions must decrease their drops in 2014, but Stafford also needs to be much more accurate on routine plays because many of the drops came on plays when he had lazy footwork or arm mechanics, despite having no pressure in the pocket.

Special teams

The Lionsí special teams improved significantly in 2013, but questions remain about how consistent the group will be in 2014.

Last season the Lions solved their problem at punter as fifth-round pick Sam Martin had an impressive rookie season. The Lions didnít allow a single return touchdown last season for the first time since 2004, and Martin was the primary kickoff man in addition to punting.

Martin averaged 47.2 yards per punt, sixth in the NFL, and 40.4 net yards, which ranked 10th. His punts also yielded an average return of just 7.8 yards, which was 11th best in the league.

The Lions hope Nate Freese can similarly solve their problem at kicker. After Jason Hanson retired in 2012, the Lions tried to replace him with veteran David Akers, who made just 19 of his 24 attempts.

Freese, a seventh-round pick this year, made all 20 of his attempts at Boston College last year, so the Lions hope his accuracy can transfer to the NFL. Heís the favorite to be the kicker next season, but Giorgio Tavecchio will push him.

Besides kicker, there isnít much competition on special teams. The Lions signed punter Drew Butler, but itís hard to see anyone knocking Martin from his job. At returner, Jeremy Ross averaged 29.3 yards on kickoffs and 16.2 yards on punts for the Lions last year, so heís the clear front runner for those duties.

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While Akersí inconsistency was the biggest problem on special teams last year, the Lions will need to improve their blocking on field-goal attempts.

Akers had two kicks blocked last season, and it was the fault of the blockers, not him. In Week 2, Akers had a 47-yard attempt blocked when a Cardinals player ran in from the right side untouched. In Week 7, Akers had a 34-yarder blocked by a Bengals defender who burst through the middle of the line. Akers also had an extra point blocked in the snow game in Philadelphia in Week 14.

The Lionsí new kicker will have to be more accurate than Akers last year, but for him to have optimal success, the field-goal blocking unit must be better.

Lions training camp position previews

Monday: Defensive backs

Tuesday: Linebackers

Wednesday: Defensive line

Thursday: Offensive line

Friday: Wide receivers and tight ends

Saturday: Running backs

Today: Quarterback and special teams

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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From left, Dan Orlovsky came back to the Lions to be Matthew Stafford's backup at quarterback, while Sam Martin returns as punter. / Illustration by Tony Augusty