Allen Park — After trying out three different kickers during the offseason, the Detroit Lions settled on an outside option to start the season, claiming Austin Seibert off waivers earlier this month.
Lions special teams coach Dave Fipp noted Seibert, a fifth-round draft pick in 2019, was widely viewed as the top kicker coming out of college that year. And despite some early-career struggles, which includes five missed extra points as a rookie and just two makes on seven field goal tries from 40 yards and beyond last season, Fipp still believes in the potential.
“I think a lot of kickers, they come out, they have some ups and downs and some of these guys take a little but longer to get started,” Fipp said. “If you go back and look at some of the great platers in this game at that position — like (Adam) Vinatieri’s really kind of an interesting guy — you look at his numbers and early on in his career, they were up and down quite a bit.”
The recently retired Vinatieri, who has a strong case for the Hall of Fame when eligible, converted 80.1% of his field-goal attempts through four seasons, including 66% from 40 yards and beyond. Siebert, through 21 games, is at 81.6%.
“The one thing that I looked at with Austin is I feel like over the last year he’s really worked hard to improve his game and he’s changed some things mechanically,” Fipp said. “So for us, I felt real good about the fact that he’s not the same guy coming in here that he’s been. He’s actually different and, in my opinion, mechanically he’s a lot better.”
Beyond accuracy, the other important trait for a kicker is leg strength. In Seibert’s brief career, his longest make is from 53 yards, only slightly better than his personal-best of 51 yards playing four years at the University of Oklahoma.
Still, Fipp believes there’s plenty of untapped potential there.
“He was hitting 61 yarders the other day,” Fipp said. “He’s got a really big leg. I think that’s one of his real strengths, to be honest with you.”
While D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are expected to shoulder the bulk of load in Detroit’s backfield this season, assistant coach Duce Staley has been pleased with the rapid development of rookie Jermar Jefferson.
From the day he started in Detroit, Staley made it clear a back must be able to pass protect to see the field. The coach said the seventh-round draft pick has met that challenge during his first offseason with the team.
“Confidence is high for me with Jermar, super high,” Staley said. “Just being able to see him in college and now, it’s two different guys.”
Staley wouldn’t commit to whether Jefferson would see playing time this Sunday against San Francisco, only affirming his confidence in the player if his number is called.
“I’m confident with Jermar’s abilities,” Staley said. “I’m very confident in him. I’ll just leave it there.”
Finding a balance
Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn would love to establish the run every week, but he’s not going to force the issue.
As a younger coach, Lynn admits he was sometimes stubborn to a fault when it came to running the football, and he learned a valuable lesson in the 2010 AFC Championship game, when he was working as the New York Jets running backs coach and run-game coordinator.
“I always tried to instill toughness in the team — we’re going to run the ball even when they know we’re going to run the ball,” Lynn said. “The one time I needed to run the ball and have some success, and they knew we were running, we didn’t.”
Facing fourth-and-goal at the Pittsburgh Steelers 1-yard line, Lynn called for the play 40 Blast, a run up the middle that the team had a 100% success rate running that season. But the Steelers anticipated the call and stopped Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson short, forcing a turnover on downs.
“I felt like that play cost us in the AFC Championship game,” Lynn said. “That was a tough lesson. This league is too good to know what you’re doing and still do it.”
Lynn, a former running back, still wants to run, but balance is the bigger priority. He’s prepared to adjust his weekly game plan to do whatever gives his team the best chance to win.
“When I say balance, that doesn’t necessarily mean 50-50 in this game,” Lynn said. “One week it may be 50 runs, one week it may be 50 passes.”