The Detroit Lions have a punter crisis, if such a thing really exists. Their near Pro Bowl punter, Sam Martin, remains on the Non-Football Injury/Reserve list, meaning he cannot return to the roster until Week 7 at the earliest.
Martin’s replacement, Kasey Redfern, had a phenomenal preseason and was lined up to be a very serviceable replacement for Martin during the first two months of the season. But all it took was a bobbled snap to completely derail those plans. Redfern mishandled a punt snap, panicked, scrambled, then took a shot that no punter should ever have to take (unless in the Pro Bowl, of course).
Redfern was carted off with a knee injury and head coach Jim Caldwell called the injury “significant.” That almost certainly means Redfern is headed for injured reserve and the Lions will be without a punter, yet again.
But believe it or not, there are actually some emergency options out there available to help. Here are four perfectly legitimate options for the Lions at punter for the next five weeks.
Johnston is an undrafted rookie who spent the entire preseason with the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnston would end up losing a camp battle with 13-year veteran Donnie Jones, who has been the Eagles’ punter for the past four years. But Johnston certainly put up a fight.
In four preseason games, Johnston averaged 44.9 yards per punt (43.0 net) on 15 total punts. He dropped three inside his opponent’s 20-yard line while only committing one touchback.
In college, Johnston ranked second overall in 2016 with a net punt average of 43.9 yards. That year, he earned second-team All American and All Big Ten honors. In his four year career as a Buckeye, Johnston averaged a very respectable 44.9 yards per punt.
He also ran a 4.92 40-yard dash, which is completely meaningless, but pretty cool.
If not a Buckeye, why not a Wolverine? Like Johnston, Allen is an undrafted rookie. Allen spent the preseason with the Ravens, averaging 45.6 yards per punt (40.5 net) in nine punt attempts. He pinned five inside the 20, while only surrendering one touchback.
Back in Ann Arbor, Allen earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2016. He can handle kickoffs and even does field goal kicking, as well. In his senior year, Allen averaged 43.3 yards per pun, made 19 of 23 field goal, and was a perfect 53-for-53 with extra points.
He may not have an NFL team, but he’s a local Michigander and was practicing as recently as this tweet from Sunday night:
If you’re looking for a veteran punter who may not have the newbie jitters like Redfern, Locke may be your best option. The Vikings’ fifth-round pick in 2013 played in Minnesota in the past four season. Locke moved on from the Vikings after the 2016 season, but he could not beat out undrafted rookie Rigoberto Sanchez for the job with the Colts.
Locke’s professional stats are just mediocre. Through four years, he averaged 43.2 yards per punt and a net of just 38.8.
Though Locke only has six professional kickoffs to his name, he certainly capable of taking those duties, as well. In college, he handled kickoff duties and led all Pac-12 kickers with 68 touchbacks on 89 kickoffs in 2012. That year, he earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors and was a semifinalist for the award given to the nation’s top punter.
This was my reaction just over a week ago when the Dolphins announced they cut Matt Darr.
If you were to search Dolphins Twitter, you’d see just how beloved Darr was among the fanbase, and his release came as a mild surprise to Miami fans. Darr lost the punting competition to a rookie this preseason, but he has performed quite well in the past.
As a rookie, Darr averaged an impressive 47.6 yards per punt (39.7 net). That number took a little bit of a dive in 2016, averaging just 44.3 yards per punt, but his net average actually went up a tick (39.9). He only handled six kickoffs in his two years with the Dolphins.
UPDATE: The Lions are working out two of the players mentioned above:
The Lions are working out punters today. Among those in: Matt Darr, Drew Butler, Jeff Locke and Richie Leone.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) September 11, 2017