Lions could kick tires on rookie punters if they choose to move on from Sam Martin

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — After seven seasons, the Detroit Lions are expected to open the 2020 campaign with a punter other than Sam Martin.

A fifth-round pick in 2013, he's scheduled to be a free agent next month and signs long have pointed at the team going a different direction. 

Texas A&M punter Braden Mann won the Ray Guy Award in 2018.

The team already has two contenders under contract, signing Matt Wile (Michigan) and Jack Fox to futures deals, but given coach Matt Patricia's emphasis on special teams, no one should be surprised if the Lions look to the incoming rookie class for a potential upgrade. 

The Lions got a close-up look at one option at the Senior Bowl, working with Texas A&M punter Braden Mann throughout that week. That evaluation didn't get off to the best start when Mann put his first attempt on the ground, directly in front of Patricia. The blunder drew a sideways stare from the coach, who decided to ramp up the pressure on Mann the rest of the day. 

"He stood a little bit closer to me on the next one," Mann said. "He was in my ear the whole time, which I kind of liked. It put a little pressure and got me to focus a little bit more, like a game situation."

Mann earned the Ray Guy Award after an impressive 2018 season, spurring a mock campaign for him to be considered for the Heisman. His numbers dipped during his senior year, but he says it was because he was focusing more on the technical aspects of the position. 

"We focused on better placement, more balls inside the 20," Mann said. "l feel like in those aspects, we did improve this year. ... It was just me getting in front of the ball and letting it go as far down the field as I could and I was able to control that a bit more in 2019, getting it more up and through the ball rather than just as far as I could. That helped getting my coverage team down there."

Those focuses carried to the Senior Bowl, where Mann said he was asked by the Lions staff to directionally kick every punt. 

Mann has an interesting background, moving into punting full time after breaking two bones in his back while playing linebacker as a youth. He's honed his footwork over the years playing soccer and he earned a black belt and competed in the Junior Olympics in taekwondo. 

"I wanted to play football in college," Mann said. "I knew I couldn’t do both. I was doing taekwondo seven days a week. I had to chose one or the other and football was what I wanted to do."

Another potentially draftable option participating in the combine is Michael Turk, nephew of Matt Turk, a 17-year NFL veteran who last played in 2011. 

The younger Turk declared for the draft after one year at Arizona State after earning first-team All-Pac 12 honors. He's spent the past month training with his uncle in preparation for going pro. 

"He relayed to me to be a pro, it's got to be 10 out of 10," Turk said. "If you do have a 'mishit,' it's still got to be a B ball — at least a 45 (yarder) with a 4.7 hang (time). Consistency is the biggest thing I've been working on." 

Michael Turk knows he is still a developing prospect, but he left two years of eligibility on the table because he believes he has All-Pro potential in his leg. At Arizona State, distance was prioritized over hang time or direction. He's confident in his mechanics and situational understanding, putting 36 punts inside the 20-yard line last year.

Turk said he met with the Lions coaching staff on Tuesday night.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers