Our latest series on the Detroit Lions roster comes to a close with a comparison of the specialists from 2012 to 2013. Did the Lions improve on special teams? Let's take a look.
2013 specialists: David Akers, Havard Rugland, Sam Martin, Blake Clingan, Don Muhlbach
Don Muhlbach is the only Lions specialist back from last season. Jason Hanson decided to retire after spending more than two decades in the NFL, and the Lions signed David Akers and Havard Rugland to compete for the starting kicker job. Also, the Lions decided it was finally time to invest some resources into finding a new punter, leading to them drafting Sam Martin and signing Blake Clingan.
Did they improve?
This is a tough one. On the one hand, I expect Martin, assuming he wins the job, to be a massive upgrade over Ben Graham and Nick Harris at punter. The Lions have really struggled in the punting game, but Martin should change that.
On the other hand, will Akers or possibly even Rugland be able to perform at as high a level as Hanson did? Hanson went 32-of-36 on field goals last season. Akers went 29-of-42 in San Francisco, and there's no guarantee the Lions' starting kicker will be anywhere near as reliable as Hanson was.
When it comes down to it, I guess I'll go with a yes on this one. Quite simply, I think the upgrade at punter will be bigger than any downgrade from Hanson to Akers or Rugland in 2013.
What about compared to 2011?
2011 specialists: Jason Hanson, Ryan Donahue, Don Muhlbach
Considering the Lions also had punting issues in 2011, what was said above applies here as well. I expect the punting upgrade to be more significant than any potential step back at kicker.
(Note: Players listed from 2011 and 2012 are based on the Lions' Week 1 roster in those seasons.)