Lions punter Sam Martin strives for zero touchbacks
Allen Park — For Sam Martin, the primary goal on each punt is to hit a ball that helps the Lions in that situation, whether it's a 30-yard pooch punt, 70-yard bomb or something in between.
But one of his personal goals this season is to have zero touchbacks, and if he accomplishes that, the end result will likely help the Lions' defense.
Former NFL punter Sav Rocca accomplished the feat in 2013, booting 84 punts with zero touchbacks. Since 2002, he's the only player with 40-plus punts and zero touchbacks. Philadelphia's Dirk Johnson had no touchbacks on his 39 punts in 2005, and many punters have had just one over the last several years, including Detroit's Nick Harris in 2012.
Martin, a fifth-round pick in 2013, cut his touchbacks from 10 as a rookie to five last year. Of those five touchbacks, four were punts of 55 yards or longer, including a 71-yarder in Week 14 and a 64-yarder in Week 2.
As impressive as a 71-yard punt is, Martin understands there's a time and place for such a kick, and avoiding long ones that bounce into the end zone could help the team as well as his net yardage.
"You're not mad at that punt, but you think, what if I hit a 60-yard punt there?" he said. "It's not a serious point of emphasis. You're not going to get mad at a 72-yard punt, but at the same time, you could do better."
Martin said he has to consider how he can help the coverage unit when punting, too, as a punt near the goal line is only effective if players are there to down it.
"It's a slimmer chance that your guys get down there to cover a 55-yard punt down on the 5 rather than hitting a 45-yard punt down to the 15," he said. "You keep it out of the end zone and you get one inside the 20."
Martin was among the top punters in the NFL in some statistical categories last season. He ranked ninth in average net yardage per punt and eighth in punts inside the 20. Cutting down on touchbacks should improve both of those numbers, too.
He said one area he's worked on is controlling punts near midfield. Depending on the weather conditions, sometimes he has to hit a pooch punt or a standard one, but keeping it out of the end zone will be one of the primary goals regardless of the kicking style.
"I'd like to keep the ball out of the end zone," he said.
So far, he's done well to that end with five of his nine punts inside the 20 and zero touchbacks.
"(I'm) focusing more on situational," he said. "Hopefully, just keep stacking them inside the 20 and not worrying about numbers, just keep helping the defense. That's the goal."