As the Detroit Lions continue to fill their coaching vacancies, one new coach from the Cincinnati Bengals can help a often-forgotten unit succeed.
Special teams is the part of an average NFL game that most fans take for granted, and the Detroit Lions took a big step in improving that unit this weekend by hiring Brayden Coombs to be their special teams coordinator.
Coombs comes to the Lions from the Cincinnati Bengals, where he has spent the last decade mostly as a special teams assistant with brief stints as an offensive assistant and quality control on the offensive and defensive side.
While the Cincinnati earned the No. 1 pick in the draft by being a truly horrible football team, they were surprising decent on special teams, partially thanks to Coombs. The Bengals’ special teams unit was ranked first by Football Outsiders, improving from last year when they were ranked seventh.
The former Miami (Ohio) wide receiver becomes the third special teams coordinator in three seasons for the Lions. In 2018, Detroit opened the season with Joe Marciano at the helm. He was fired mid-season and replaced by John Bonamego last year, who was promptly fired with the eight other assistant coaches who departed at season’s end.
Detroit’s special teams were decent last season, ranking eighth by Football Outsiders. But a struggling team will take any advantage they can get, and should expect to see turnover in the unit. The Lions likely will have a new punter next season with Sam Martin heading to free agency.
Any new blood in the Detroit Lions coaching room is a benefit, especially someone with as big as a track record of success as Coombs. Consistent special teams play played a key part in the Bengals reaching the playoffs five years in a row from 2011 to 2015.
It should be interesting to see what Coombs can build out of this special teams unit. Even with Martin’s likely departure, Matt Prater is still chugging along as one of the more accurate kickers in the NFL, hitting 26 of 31 field goals and placing him in the top 20 last season. Perhaps Coombs can get some improvement out of the veteran kicker.
The most drastic improvements should come from the Lions kick returners, as Coombs was able to help a turn an undrafted free agent in Alex Erickson into one of the more reliable punt returners in football and helped push kick returner Brandon Wilson to a 31.3 yard return average.
Coombs has a talented kick returner to work with Jamal Agnew, who has 4 total touchdowns of kickoffs and punts and was named a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season.
Despite that innate ability to pop off for a big play, Agnew had a down season by his standards, only ranking as the eleventh ranked returner in football with a 9.2 yard average on punts and a 26.7 average on kick returns.
If Coombs can keep the kicking game consistent and recapture that lightning in a bottle from Agnew’s first season, the Lions could boast one of the best special teams units in the league next season.