Lions, Patriots share admiration for each other’s special-teams units

Detroit News

Allen Park — Admiration is a two-way street when it comes to the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots’ special-teams units.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a noted special-teams connoisseur, opened his Wednesday press conference raving about Detroit’s groups, coached by Dave Fipp.

“Special teams is a real strength of the team,” Belichick said. “Obviously, (Jack) Fox, he’s one of the best punters in the league. He’s outstanding. (Chris) Board, that’s the best special-teams player we’ll play against all year. He’s a great player. Kalif Raymond — Crusader, love a (Holy Cross) Crusader — he is an aggressive and solid combo return guy. They have good speed, good size, good kicking game, good specialists. Obviously, they are working through the kicker situation, but they have some really outstanding players in those units.”

Board, Fox and Raymond were all humbled by Belichick taking the time to highlight them.

“It’s definitely high praise coming from a guy like that,” Board said. “It means a lot to me to just be respected like that. Comments like that mean the world to me.”

Raymond broke into a big smile learning of the mention, recalling introducing himself to Belichick at Holy Cross, when the coach was visiting daughter Amanda Belichick, the school’s women’s lacrosse coach.

Belichick’s compliments were paid back in full by Fipp, who shared not only his respect for the legendary Patriots coach, but also a desire to one day get an opportunity to know Belichick on a more personal level.

“Bill Belichick’s incredible, man,” Fipp said. “What he’s done on special teams through his career, I have as much respect for him and special-teams plays as anybody in the National Football League. I know he has a heavy hand in what they do. He’s had a number of different coaches throughout the years, but they always play at a really high level. He takes the roster, and on their roster, they devote at least three guys who are just hardcore special-teams players for them.

“…They challenge you a lot,” Fipp continued. “They do a bunch of different things. In my time against them, they’ve hit a drop-kick against us, they’ve run a reverse against us, they’ve brought the corner blitz off the edge in the Super Bowl against us. So, you really have to be prepared when you go into the game with these guys. I would say on the flip side of it, it’s like one of my favorite things to do is play against them because it’s always a challenge. And I think, as a professional, your goal is to earn the respect of other people, and I would say he would be up there at the top of my list in trying to earn his respect. I’m hoping, one day, he’ll take me fishing on his boat. We can talk special teams in the offseason.”

Like the Lions under Fipp, the Patriots always carry a handful of designated special-teamers on the team’s roster, including Matthew Slater, a 15-year vet who has been selected to 10 Pro Bowls during his outstanding career.

“When I was Miami, it seems like forever ago, he went to his first Pro Bowl,” Fipp said. “I think it was in 2013 and he’s the only player I’ve ever written a letter to. I just said, ‘Man, what an incredible performance, and congrats to you. I really enjoy watching you play the game.’

“…He plays on the perimeter, and I mean we just always knew we had our hands full going against him,” Fipp said. “It was fun competing against the guy. I respect his story. I love the way he worked and competed on game day. And I was happy for him that he made it to the Pro Bowl, and now here we are, whatever, a lot of years later, and he’s still going, which is incredible. He’s a great player.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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