Lions' Martin ready to kick aside miscues, continue upward trend
Allen Park — Lions punter Sam Martin had to make plenty of adjustments unrelated to punting his first two seasons.
As a rookie, he had to learn how to hold for left-footed kicker David Akers. In Year 2, he had to change the technique for right-footed rookie Nate Freese. When the Lions cut Freese, Martin had to quickly become comfortable with Alex Henery, and two weeks later, he had to learn Matt Prater's preferences.
With Prater back for 2015, though, Martin can now spend more time this offseason focusing on how to improve his punts and kickoffs.
"I know what to expect out of him on and off the field, and him the same with me, and me with (long snapper Don Muhlbach)," Martin said. "It's a solid dynamic. It's definitely an easy feeling going forward."
Barring something unforeseen happening in training camp, Martin will be the first punter to boot for the Lions three straight years since 2010, when Nick Harris played his eighth straight season with the team.
Through two seasons, Martin has mostly validated the Lions' fifth-round pick in 2013 as he's ranked in the top half of NFL punters in most categories. Some of his statistics worsened from 2013 to 2014, going from a 47.2-yard gross average to 46.1, and 40.4-yard net average to 40.1. But Martin had 29 punts downed inside the 20, ranking eighth and an improvement from 22 the year before.
Although Martin's raw numbers weren't as good, he was a more efficient punter his second season. Analytics website Pro Football Focus ranked him as the third-best punter in the league, behind St. Louis' Johnny Hekker (second-team All-Pro) and Indianapolis' Pat McAfee (first-team All-Pro). The site also graded Martin as the fifth-best kickoff man in the league in 2014.
Martin, of course, has had his errors during his time in the NFL, and his 10-yard punt against the Cowboys will remain a fixture in the memories of Lions fans as one of the plays leading to the playoff loss. But Martin said he didn't dwell on that miscue long.
"Whether I did that in Week 2 of the season or the playoffs, a bad punt is a bad punt," he said.
For the most part, Martin has avoided blunders. Over the last two seasons, the Lions have allowed just one return touchdown, a punt return by Green Bay's Micah Hyde in Week 17 last year. The coverage players deserve credit, but they've often praised Martin for making their job easier.
Caldwell said Martin is working this offseason to pin teams deep in their own territory, and he thinks the 25-year-old should continue to become more proficient.
"Oftentimes, you'll find with these guys that some forms of strength really don't reach their max until they're 28 or 29 and so he's still developing," Caldwell said.
Martin will also be working under new special teams coordinator Joe Marciano, and even though John Bonamego helped Martin adapt to the NFL the past couple years, another set of eyes rarely hurts.
Martin's experience has also helped him learn how to improve his training habits. As a rookie, his leg was sorer than expected by the end of the season, and he found ways to keep it fresh last year, spending more time in cold or hot tubs and receiving massages. As for the offseason preparation, Martin said he's not hitting his best punts or kickoffs yet as he tries to preserve his body.
"You don't want to peak too early, obviously, and you don't want to start wearing your body down now when I'm going to need it in January," he said.
And even though Martin has done well overall his first two years and feels like he's validated the Lions' selection of him, he said his goal is to improve in each statistical category next year.
"I think my first two years in the NFL, I've been satisfied with, but there's never complacency," he said.