In football, if defense wins championships and offense wins games, where exactly does that leave special teams? Though they'll never generate the same praise as glamor positions, the play of the punters, kickers and return units is no less important to the success of a team as every other spot. For years, stability has dominated in Detroit with Jason Hanson. In 2012, that won't change at all, giving a familiar look to a vital unit.
With all this in mind, today, we give the under appreciated kickers, punters and gunners their due to close out our 2012 Detroit Lions' positional preview. This season, the group will have a nice mix of age and youth to lead the way.
Who's The Guy? Jason Hanson, exactly who it's been since his arrival in 1992. Detroit's ageless wonder has seen his career evolve every year. He's gone from the playoffs to mediocrity, to 0-16 then right back to the playoffs. His career has also been extended by kicking in domed conditions, meaning fans should count on the same bionic leg they've seen in the past. Though he's slowing down a bit, Hanson shows no signs of stopping, even at age 42. When he does quit, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will likely be calling.
Second In Command? Ben Graham. After Ryan Donahue supplanted rookie Nick Harris last year, Graham came in and supplanted Donahue after he was injured by punting well, and then won this season's punting battle. Last season, the Aussie Graham punted well and continued that into the preseason. Count on Graham to remain a good option for pinning teams backward and keeping the field long for the Lions' defense.
Others Worth Noting: Kassim Osgood, Stefan Logan and John Wendling. Each one of these players will play a role on special teams in 2012. Osgood was picked up for his excellent role on kickoff and punt coverage, and Wendling has long been an ace in those areas, especially where chasing down punts and pinning teams deep is concerned. Logan will be the most important player to watch here as a returner, given he slowed down in 2011 after looking like a difference maker in 2010. Can he rebound and have a better year? The Lions offense would benefit greatly if he's able to.
Biggest Key To Positional Success: Coverage. In 2011, nothing went right for the Lions with regard to covering punts and kicks. They got burned several times, and not just by the best returners in the game. Routinely, unknown returners piled up the yards as Detroit failed to tackle and keep teams pinned back. This year, that must improve for the defense, who can look even better if they're given a longer field to defend.
Best/Worst Case Scenarios: Best? Hanson remains the ageless wonder, looking flawless on field goals from short and long. Graham punts well, and the coverage units on both kickoffs and punts clean up their mistakes while Logan plays better, giving the Lions an advantage. Worst? Either Hanson or Donahue gets hurt and is not dependable. The coverage remains abysmal, and Logan's 2011 troubles become the norm in 2012.
Outlook: Hanson is always solid and he will be again, despite the fact he might miss more long field goals than in the past. The punting game is good with Graham, and the coverage might not be able to get much worse than it was last year. Logan's play will be the wild card, but he will help the unit much more than he hurts it in 2012.
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