Detroit Lions expect ‘most explosive’ Kalif Raymond to shine on special teams again

Detroit Free Press

Nearly 30 minutes after Day 2 of Detroit Lions minicamp had wrapped up on Wednesday, there were two players remaining on the field, catching balls from the JUGS machine.

One was Kalif Raymond.

That work ethic from the receiver, entering his sixth season in the NFL, helped him put together a career year in his first go-round in Detroit.

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The 27-year-old from Holy Cross signed with the Lions before  the 2021 season and set new highs in catches (48), receiving yards (576) and touchdowns (four).

“I mean it definitely helps, but every year is different, you come in with a fresh slate man and I’m just trying to get better,” Raymond said. “With more opportunity comes a lot more corrections that I can do too.”

One of the main areas Raymond said he wants to improve? His film study.

He spent time in the offseason watching some of the game’s top receivers, such as Cooper Kupp. He didn’t just watch route-running, workouts or highlight tape.

He watched them speak.

“I saw an interview with Cooper Kupp, and that dude, he was calling out cover-3 fires and all of that,” he said. “I was like ‘If you can be that locked in to what the defense is doing before the route starts, you’re good.’

“So just doing that, being cleaner out with my breaks and the little details of the game to just clean everything up.”

Raymond, at 5 feet 8 and 182 pounds, has strong hands and quick feet — his shiftiness is his greatest strength. It’s why, in addition to providing depth in the wide receivers room, he is the Lions’ go-to returner.

“What we told him last year when he was up as a free agent, we told him he can be a role player for us offensively and that he’s our starting punt returner,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “We know we can use him as a gadget, we know we can put him in at the Z (the flanker who lines up off the line of scrimmage), we know we can put him in at the F … or at the slot, so he brings a ton of versatility.”

Another word that came up as Campbell discussed Raymond, who signed a two-year deal in March, was trust.

In his first year in Detroit, he established a rapport with quarterback Jared Goff. Raymond was second among Lions wide receivers in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns (behind only rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown).

That was big, especially for a team dealing with a new quarterback, under a new coach in a new system.

“Reliability,” Campbell said of what Raymond brings when he steps on the football field. “We know exactly who he is, what he’s going to be for us and what he can do.”

Campbell said the plan for Raymond won’t be the same in 2022 with the added depth at the wideout position.

In addition to returning St. Brown, Raymond and Josh Reynolds, the Lions signed free agent D.J. Chark from the Jacksonville Jaguars, drafted speedster Jameson Williams from Alabama after trading up to No. 12 and are expecting Quintez Cephus — their fifth-round pick in 2020 — to be healthy.

There’s also Trinity Benson, who Campbell singled out as having a particularly good spring, plus tight end T.J. Hockenson and running bask D’Andre Swift, who both ranked in the top three Lions in targets in 2021.

With that many options, Raymond won’t be required to do the same things as last year on offense, but Campbell said his role will still beimportant.

“I think to be able to take a little bit of a load off of him offensively, to where you’re still getting maximum everything he’s got on these offensive reps and he’s your staring punt returner, I think he can be even better,” Campbell said. “I think that will make him even better.”

Raymond was fourth in the NFL in punt return average at 11.2 yards per attempt.

He also was a staple on kick return and is expected to hold that position heading into the season, but Raymond was quick to talk about the importance of his teammates in those situations.

“There’s one thing that gets misled as far as returners go, and that’s you’re only going to be as good as the guys in front of you,” he said. “There are times where it’s wide open and the returner might get credit for the 97-yard touchdown, but he might’ve gone untouched.

“It can be both the good and bad, the bad happens too and then people think it’s all (the returner’s) fault, but he needs those other 10 guys.”

Campbell said Raymond plays “like he’s 220 pounds,” earning special praise from the coach.

Raymond says he does so because every day is “a blessing.”  That — and his talent — got high marks from Campbell as well.

“Pound-for-pound, he would fall into that category of the most explosive players we have on this team,” Campbell said. “And he puts in the work, so we’re just glad we got him.”

Contact Tony Garcia at Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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