| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions are 1-3 at the bye. Is there any reason for optimism?
Detroit Lions don’t seem intent on making a midseason coaching change, so what improvements, if any, can save the 2020 season? (Filmed Oct. 5, 2020)
The goal was simple for Jack Fox before the season started: Make the team.
Well, that has changed quite a bit now. After all, Fox is the NFL’s leading punter with a 49.9-yard net average, which puts him on pace to break Johnny Hekker’s single-season record of 46.0 yards in that category.
So, yes, that means Fox was due for a goal realignment.
“Jack’s really mellow, he’s really even-keeled, he’s wired the right way,” special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs said in a conference call Monday. “So it’s kind of a good starting point.
“But you know one of the things we do during the bye week with all our guys is meet individually one-on-one to just sort of give them the opportunity to ask questions, share thoughts they have. But part of that is looking back at the goals that we set in the spring, where we’re at right and then how those need to be adjusted. With Jack it was easy. It was easy to see that we needed to set higher goals and raise the bar.”
That’s what earning NFC special teams player of the month in September gets you. Especially as a first-year player
And that’s part of the challenge Coombs, a first-time coordinator himself, faces with a young player who is off to a meteoric start. Coombs just has to remind Fox, and maybe himself, that it’s just that: a start.
“He’s had a four-game career so far,” Coombs said, “and I think he’s a really driven kid and he’s gained a little bit of confidence by going out there and doing it in games to the point where he wants to be one of the best in the league and to do it for a long time.
“So in order to do that I think it makes it easier to stay motivated, for him to know what he’s capable of and to really speaking that into reality and making it a goal of his so that he always has something constantly to chase moving forward as opposed to ever looking back.”
Coombs’ strategy is to keep the moments small and the immediate goals focused.
“It’s really just kind of staying in the present,” he said. “Every single game, every single punt is its own entity. You can’t worry about what’s already happened and we can’t worry too much about what’s down the road. But it’s just setting goals and then going out there in the present and trying to execute.”
And if Fox manages to stay focused and execute, that could lead to big things, which Coombs said he and Fox aren’t thinking about just yet.
“We’re not really worried about All-Pro or anything like that,” he said. “If he goes and does his job, I think he’s seen he can certainly be in that conversation.”
Fox is one of the big reasons the Lions have one of the NFL’s best special teams. Football Outsiders ranks them seventh in defense-adjusted value over average. The coverage units have been strong and Matt Prater has been solid on his way to winning NFC special teams player of the week recently. The unit’s overall play has become a consistent strength for the Lions.
“Yeah, I would say we take a lot of pride in that, for sure, in the rest of the team being able to count on us and being confident in us to go out there and execute at a high level,” Coombs said. “I would say sitting here right now at 1-3 we’re certainly not in a situation where we’re patting ourselves on the back or looking at accolades or anything like that. The biggest thing is we’ve got to win games and we’ve got to make the plays that help us win games.”
That’s where Fox’s playmaking consistency comes in. Part of the key to Fox’s success — and possibly the key to his future potential — has been the way he has exceled at the immediate tasks in front of him so far.
“When we sat and we looked back, I think what people have very quickly forgotten is that he was in a tight competition all through training camp,” Coombs said. “So his focus was to win the job and to make sure that he was the Lions’ punter. And he was all in on that. And once he did that, then it’s like, ‘OK, I’m the guy. Let’s move forward and start punting in a way that helps the team win.’
“And he’s kind of done that. So now it’s, ‘OK, how good can I be? How good do I want to be? What am I willing to do to get there?’ Those are the kinds of conversations that we’re having right now. But he hasn’t let any of the success get to his head this far. He’s been the same guy, he’s working the same. It’s really fun to be a part. Enjoy working with him a lot and try to do everything I can to put him in the best position to succeed.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.