There’s a new punter in town.
For the first time since 2003, the Detroit Lions will not employee the special team’s kicking tandem of Jason Hanson and Nick Harris.
After seven years of service, the team decided to part ways with Harris over the weekend after the veteran lost his job to rookie punter Ryan Donahue.
Donahue, an undrafted free agent from Iowa, was considered to be one of college football’s top punting prospects and the Lions brought him into camp expecting that he would push Harris.
Early in camp, Donahue was inconsistent at times demonstrating outstanding hang time and leg strength while losing control of his kicks other times. While Harris did not have the same high-end capabilities, he offered more stability.
Donahue seemed to gain confidence as camp progressed and had stronger days at practice – as well as in exhibition contests – in the second half of the preseason .
During preseason action, Harris averaged 45.3 yards-per-punt while Donahue averaged slightly less at 44.1. However, Donahue’s long of 58 edged Harris’ long of 55 and Donahue had three of his punts downed inside the 20 compared to two form Harris.
Outside of punting, the team’s punter also must serve as a holder for Hanson. The Lions’ long-time kicker is very meticulous in his approach and every detail is important.
“As far as I’m concerned my job depends on those guys (the punters),” said Hanson. “The league has become a ‘don’t miss’ league for the kickers and if that’s true everything around me has to be perfect”.
For the first two games of the preseason, Harris was the holder for all of Hanson’s kicks while Donahue handled the responsibility for Dave Rayner. In the third preseason game, the team made the switch and Donahue began holding for Hanson.
Donahue performed well and Hanson converted on all of his attempts. He even did a good job of pulling down a bad snap from backup long snapper and starting center Dominic Raiola on an extra point attempt against New England.
Still, Hanson does notice a difference and explained that the art of holding usually is perfected with experience.
“Ryan is a good young holder coming out of college,” said Hanson during the week following the third preseason game. “But I would say, at this point, Nick’s a professional holder. I think the young guys learn they are pros also at that, they worked at that too. Not just punting with a little holding on the side…. That’s the biggest difference between what Nick is and what the young guys have to learn.”
The move to keep Donahue was purely based on performance, according to the Lions. They also benefited by saving roughly one-million dollars in salary by making the change to a younger punter with more long-term potential.
Still, Donahue has some growth – both as a punter and holder – ahead of him.