The Detroit Lions made a bold decision to release both of the kickers they had in training camp at the end of roster cuts. And although they ended up bringing Zane Gonzalez back on the practice squad, they are entering their Week 1 game with newbie Austin Seibert as the only kicker on their 53-man roster after claiming him on waivers last week.
Detroit could still choose to promote Gonzalez from the practice squad—they did elect to protect his this week—for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers to take on the kicking duties in the opener, but special teams coordinator Dave Fipp wasn’t revealing their plan before Thursday’s practice.
“I won’t say who’s kicking,” Fipp told the media. “I’m not going to say who’s staring or who’s returning or any of those things. But I will say this, we feel real good about it.”
Seibert was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He enjoyed a somewhat successful rookie season, converting on 25-of-29 field goal attempts, though making just 30-of-35 extra points. He would only last one game in 2020 with the Browns, however, after missing an extra point and field goal in the opener.
That being said, Fipp expressed confidence in Seibert after watching his tape and seeing him in a week of practice in Detroit. He looks improved from his early-career woes.
“I feel like over the last year he’s really worked hard to improve his game and he’s changed some things mechanically,” Fipp said. “So for us, I felt real good about the fact that he’s not the same guy coming in here that he’s been. He’s actually different and, in my opinion, mechanically he’s a lot better.”
Another concern with Seibert is that he hasn’t kicked the long ball much in his career. At Oklahoma, his career-long was 51 yards. In the NFL, he’s never made a field goal longer than 53 yards. However, Fipp said Seibert’s leg strength is actually one of his biggest positives.
“He was hitting 61 yarders the other day. I mean, he’s got a really big leg. I think that’s one of his real strengths, to be honest with you.”
As for the return job, Fipp was tight-lipped there. The most likely option based on camp reps would be for wide receiver Kalif Raymond to take both the kick and punt return jobs. However, it appears Raymond may be the team’s starting wide receiver, and as we saw with Michigan’s Ronnie Bell, there’s an injury risk to expanding a starter’s role too far. Fipp admitted that is part of the consideration with all special teams reps.
“I think when you’re talking about guys playing special teams, I do think that there’s always a balance between offense, defense, and their role on special teams,” Fipp said. “You’re trying to maximize the whole roster, you try to balance out the workload and push it around so you’re not taxing any one guy too much.”
Another option would be safety-turned-running back Godwin Igwebuike. Fipp came away impressed with him after a couple of successful kick returns in the preseason.
“He’s a guy that can be a four core player on special teams whether he’s returning or blocking, obviously, down the field in coverage on kickoff and punt,” Fipp said. “He’s really been a great help for us in the preseason, so I feel really good about him.”
Sounds like we’ll just have to see what the Lions do when they take the field on Sunday.