If needed, Tate is option to return punts for Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions' special teams suffered this season from having significantly more negative plays than positive ones, and in their playoff game in Dallas Sunday, the winner of the third phase could easily determine the game.

Return man Jeremy Ross has posted decent averages this year, ranking 10th on kickoffs with 25.4 yards and 11th on punts with 8.9 yards. However, Ross' longest punt return this year was just 28 yards.

The Lions still list Ross as the starting returner on both punts and kickoffs, but there's a chance they'll give fellow receiver Golden Tate a chance to make a game-breaking play on special teams this postseason.

"Everything is considered," coach Jim Caldwell said when asked this week if Tate is an option on special teams. "Everything is looked at seriously."

And Tate is certainly open to the possibility of returning punts, though he's well aware it's Ross' job. Tate led the Lions with 99 catches for 1,331 yards this year, but he has practiced punt returns during the week and in pregame warm-ups all season.

"I also pay close attention because you never know when Jeremy Ross breaks a shoelace or needs a breather for whatever the reason is or whatever," he said. "I always want to be prepared, and like I've been saying, I want to help this team any way I can.

"In my mind, this is a must-win game and there's nobody that wants to get back to the big show again (more) than I so I'm trying to help this team get there."

Tate was one of the top punt returners in the NFL with the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks, averaging 11.5 yards per return with 10 returns of 17-plus yards, including a 71-yarder, but he hasn't returned one for the Lions this year.

"I had a lot of fun on returns," he said. "I just kind of got to go out there and play backyard football and find creases and make plays, and I have a lot of fun. I had a lot of trust in the guys that were blocking for me, and, yeah, I do miss it.

"First and foremost, I want to help this team, and the coaches and the scouts and the guys that brought me in think I'm more effective just being an offensive player so I respect that."