Lions coordinator: Long-snapper Muhlbach's poise, punter Fox's 'live leg' proved unbeatable combo
In an offseason that lacked some of the more-traditional roster battles, two of the more hotly contested spots on the Detroit Lions' roster this year were on special teams, where longtime long snapper Don Muhlbach and punter Jack Fox emerged victorious, beating out undrafted rookies Arryn Siposs and Steve Wirtel.
Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs offered some insights on the separating factors in those two choices. With Muhlbach, the experience was too valuable with inexperience at some other spots.
"In the end, with Muhl, just an outstanding leader in our locker room," Coombs said. "Everybody loves him. He's been established here for a long time, obviously, which I like to remind him of frequently. I think just going into the first game with Muhl, knowing that we were going to have a new punter, knowing that we were going to have a new (punt protector), With me being a first-time coordinator, I think having some sense of familiarity there for the rest of the guys just gives everybody a sense of poise.
"We know Muhl is going to not only know what he's supposed to do, but be able to direct everybody else as well," Coombs continued. "Somebody told me when I got here that he was the Nolan Ryan of long snappers, so just the wealth of experience that he has and the ability to kind of guide the rest of the guys through — wasn't anything that Steve (Wirtel) did wrong.
Coombs was similarly high on both Fox and Siposs, in a battle he called neck-to-neck a week earlier. And the fact that neither had NFL game experience only made the choice more difficult.
"Jack really just he excelled in every situation we put him in," Coombs said. "We intentionally did things to try to get these guys to crack. Everything we did, I mean the very last scrimmage, when we went down to the stadium, I had Jamie Collins standing three feet behind Jack just trying to get him rattled, trying to get him to screw it up, and he was calm and he was in there banging them up toward the roof. He did a great job, did everything we asked him to do. I think you guys all saw very, very talented, live leg, so the ceiling is very, very high for Jack. It's just a matter of him going out there and doing it. I'm excited to see him here in a couple of days."
Coombs said Siposs' lack of experience kicking off wasn't a factor in the decision praising the overall improvements made in that area.
"It was not pretty when he first got started (in March)," Coombs said. "He would be the first to tell you that. But he constantly improved throughout the offseason. Sip's a very ascending player still in my opinion, even though he's an older guy, he's very inexperienced. I think he got to a point where we were comfortable with him kicking off, as well. Don't think that was necessarily a deciding factor with the punters but certainly, Jack's ability there is a strength for him (and) will give us the opportunity to do some different things."
Because the league expanded practice squads to 16 players this year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lions were able to squeeze both Wirtel and Siposs into that group. That will allow both the opportunity to continue to develop for a potential shot down the road.