Lions' special-teams coverage again an issue to watch

Mike Wilkening
Lions re-sign OT Hilliard

The Lions’ special-teams coverage wasn’t a strength in 2011, and two return scores surrendered in the Week Three loss at Tennessee might suggest it again could be a weakness for Detroit. In fairness to the Lions, though, they had covered well in their first two games, and they ran into some bad luck against the Titans. For starters, P Ben Graham suffered a season-ending calf injury on a punt returned for the first score. On the play, the Titans executed a throwback lateral in textbook fashion after Graham hit a line-drive punt caught just outside the numbers. One special-teams coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, told PFW that the Titans got an ideal setup for the play, considering where they received the ball. The play, the coach said, can be challenging to stop if well-run.

On the Titans’ second return TD, PK Jason Hanson hit a long line-drive kickoff that KR Darius Reynaud returned for a score. Hanson had more responsibility than normal vs. Tennessee, as he took over the punting once Graham left the game.

“We can do a better job of covering but we can also do a better job of kick location,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said.

With Graham out, the Lions re-signed P Nick Harris, who played for Detroit from 2003-10. Harris’ ability to place the ball and experience holding for Hanson on placements are assets, the special-teams coach told PFW, but he does not have exceptional leg strength. Harris' performance is something to monitor, but special-teams play, as highlighted in Week Three, is a total team effort.