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Allen Park — His first four seasons, Detroit Lions punter Sam Martin kept improving. In 2016, not only did he finish with the second-best net average in the league, it was the second-best mark in the four decades the NFL had tracked the stat.

That upward trajectory came to a screeching halt this season, in large part due to a foot injury suffered during a vacation. The injury cost him training camp and the first six games of the regular season, and contributed to his ineffectiveness even after he returned the lineup.

“It goes to show, to me, how important that time of year that I missed was — July, August, camp, preseason games, that’s all huge,” Martin said. “For one, all the strength training time I missed. That kind of stuff you can’t make up in the middle of a season because you’re worried about playing.”

Martin’s 43.4 yards per punt this season marked a 5.1-yard decrease from the year before and ranked 29th in the NFL. His six touchbacks, double the previous season despite playing six fewer games, contributed to a net average decline of nearly seven yards.

“I was doing everything I could to get back to myself,” Martin said. “I’d have a punt, feel like I was moving in the right direction, then I’d have a bad one. I couldn’t find a rhythm and a groove.”

While a punter often flies under the radar on a team’s list of priorities, their ability to consistently make up field position each time they boot the ball is vastly underrated in a sport known as a game of inches. With that in mind, the Lions locked Martin up prior to the 2016 season, signing the 2013 fifth-round pick to a lucrative four-year, $13.6 million extension.

Martin was a true weapon in 2016, while his performance last season often proved costly. With the foot injury behind him, and no need for offseason surgery, he’s confident he’ll be able to return to his record-setting form with a full offseason in 2018.

“I’m going to stay healthy, go through my normal routine and hopefully break my 2016 records,” Martin said. “As far as the future goes, I’m not worried about it. I’ll be more than ready by August.

“I’m already thinking about next year. This year will be an asterisk in my career, hopefully.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Justin_Rogers

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