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Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals: Beat writers make predictions
Dave Birkett and Bob McManaman share thoughts, predictions on Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals, coming Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. Filmed Sept. 22.
What a difference five one-hundredths of a second makes.
In the year that Detroit Lions rookie punter Jack Fox spent on the practice squads in Detroit and Kansas City, he learned a lot about the minuscule differences between punting in college and the NFL.
He learned that in the NFL, punters try to kick within 1.25 seconds of catching it. When he was at Rice, he guessed that time was closer to 1.3 or 1.4 seconds.
“It doesn’t sound like a huge difference,” Fox said Thursday in a conference call, “but it really does feel like it.”
What he learned has paid off and has resulted to Fox booming punts at crucial times and leading the league with a 51.3-yard net punting average.
Fox didn’t have the benefit of a redshirt year at Rice, so he treated his time with the Chiefs and Lions last year as a surrogate redshirt. He joined Kansas City in May, spent training camp there and joined the practice squad until he was cut in November. On Dec. 5, the Lions signed him to their practice squad.
Fox spent the year working on his craft and taking advantage of being around some of the NFL’s best specialists, like punter Dustin Colquitt.
“Obviously I got better through the four years (in college),” Fox said. “But I really treated last year as a redshirt year for me almost, just because I didn’t have that in college. I really had an opportunity to really just get better at punting and kicking.
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“Being on the practice squad here and in Kansas City both helped being around really good specialists. Yeah, definitely think I’ve gotten a lot better in the last year.”
One of the largely underappreciated skills of punters is the use of their hands when it comes to catching snaps and placing holds for field-goal kickers. Fox worked on his hands extensively last year.
“I think the biggest adjustment I made was just making sure my hands are better,” he said. “Everybody thinks punting is all about kicking the ball, and it is. But you’ve got to catch it and put it on your foot before you can kick it.
“So I think getting my hands better … being sure I’m better at catching the ball, setting it and dropping it has really helped me in the last year.”
So far, it has come together for Fox, who, in the words of special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs, is “kicking the crap out of the ball.” Fox has executed well and at crucial times. He said he’s most proud of the 57-yard punt he kicked from the back of the end zone toward the end of the first half in Week 2 against the Packers. It was a key moment in the game, as Fox’s deep, high kick forced returner Tyler Ervin to call a fair catch at his own 38-yard line.
The punt demonstrated uncommon poise for a rookie. Fox said working on his technique and trusting his coverage unit has helped him execute and remain calm.
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“I think in the last year just getting better with my form and being more comfortable with the way I punt has helped me mentally,” he said. “And then I really try to go out there and be confident and be aggressive when I’m out there punting.
“I think the way that our special teams, especially the punt unit, has played has really helped me be confident and aggressive. We get down the field really well. I’m confident in our protection and confident in the snap. If everybody else plays well, which I know they are and I know they have, it makes me more confident out there and probably a little calmer.”
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