September 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lions benefit from harsh lessons Jeremy Ross learned

Allen Park — Jeremy Ross called for a fair catch on his first NFL punt return for the Packers in Week 16 of 2012. On his second, he returned the ball 58 yards to the 7.

In Week 17, Ross gave the Packers a 44-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard punt return, cementing himself as a return threat who could spell wide receiver Randall Cobb.

But in the divisional round of the 2012 postseason, Ross muffed a punt that gave San Francisco the ball at the Packers 9 and led to the tying touchdown in a game the 49ers eventually won, 45-31. In Week 3 of 2013, Ross fumbled a kickoff that gave the Bengals the ball at the 2 and led to a touchdown.

A day later the Packers released Ross, and after two weeks of waiting for another job, the Lions signed him to the practice squad, giving him a chance to redeem himself for a division foe. And he’s clearly made the most of it.

“Guys figure out sometimes that the streets are cold, and it hurts to get cut,” Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego said. “He’s just a really, really smart player, a heady guy, tough (and) physical guy. I’m just really, really happy that we got him.”

As the Lions prepared for the season, they spent a minimal amount of time looking for their primary return man. The Lions promoted Ross to the active roster in Week 7 last year, and by Week 12, he took over return duties for Micheal Spurlock and flourished in the role, averaging 29.3 yards per kickoff return, 16.2 yards per punt return and adding a touchdown on each in the snowy Week 14 game in Philadelphia.

More importantly, Ross didn’t lose a fumble for the Lions, and his only muff came when he was obstructed by cornerback Bill Bentley on a punt, though the ball went immediately out of bounds.

“Catch the ball first. That’s the most important thing,” Ross said, adding he’s worked on perfecting his technique to prevent the fumbling issue.

In addition to the special teams contributions, Ross added five catches for 59 yards and two carries for 40 yards for the Lions. Naturally, he caught a 5-yard touchdown and ran for a 24-yard gain against the Packers in Week 13. He’ll contribute on offense this year, too, as coach Jim Caldwell has said the Lions will try to put their best playmakers on the field.

Based on his experience last year, Ross agreed with Bonamego’s thought that it’s cold on the streets. After being cut by the Packers, he went home to California to train.

“When you’re released and you ain’t got no job, it’s tough. It definitely is tough,” Ross said. “I got tired of working out and training while people were playing. I was like, ‘Man, this is whack. I want to be on a team again with my brothers grinding.’”

The Lions were the first team to offer Ross another opportunity, and he nailed his Oct. 8 workout, convincing them to add him to the practice squad the same day.

Ross has taken advantage of every opportunity in Detroit, but he learned plenty from his time in Green Bay. After hearing initial praise with the Packers, then harsh criticism, he’s now giving himself security instead of getting it from others.

“Early on, it affected me a little bit because I was putting my security in what people thought because it’s good to hear, ‘Oh, you’re great,’ when you’re doing well,” he said. “But when you’re not doing well, it doesn’t feel good, obviously. I’ve learned how to not be focused on people and what they think and how they view me.”

Jeremy Ross returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season for the Lions. He also sees time as a receiver. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News