Originally written June 24, 2013 on Fox Sports Detroit:
You have to be a little nuts - with absolutely no regard for your body - to make a career out of returning kicks and punts in the NFL. The Detroit Lions are in need of one of those fearless maniacs. Stefan Logan handled both duties last season but was unproductive and not re-signed. The jobs will be up for grabs when training camp opens in late July with several candidates in the mix. One of those with the most experience is Micheal Spurlock, who was signed earlier this month as a free agent. In six years in the league, Spurlock has returned a total of 58 punts (9.9-yard average) and 89 kicks (24.8 average). He's taken two punts and three kickoffs for touchdowns, one of each last season with San Diego. "Both of them are dangerous jobs," Spurlock said. "It's living your life in the fast lane. I just enjoy it." For guys like Spurlock, an undrafted player coming out of Mississippi in 2006, it's helped secure a regular paycheck. He's contributed as a receiver - 46 catches in 48 games (nine starts) for a total of five teams - but his best asset has been his gutsy special-teams contributions. It's the only way he's likely to make the Lions' roster this season. "I've always been told the more you can do, that's how you stay around," Spurlock said. "If it's catching punts, if it's blocking, whatever it is, that's what I do. Wherever they want me to go, that's where I go." The Lions are trying to rebuild their special-teams unit with a new coordinator (John Bonamego), a new kicker (David Akers), a new punter (Sam Martin) and new puntkick return specialists. The Lions turned to running back Joique Bell on kick returns and receiver Mike Thomas on punt returns for the final game last season after Logan got benched. Bell and Thomas will compete for the job again. Ryan Broyles, a second-year receiver who was an impressive return specialist in college at Oklahoma, might be a factor when he's fully recovered from a knee injury. Undrafted rookie Steven Miller, a 5-foot-7 running back from Appalachian State, and receiver Patrick Edwards, who was injured last year and spent the season on the practice-squad roster, could be the answer depending on how they handle the pressure on game days. Rookie running back Theo Riddick, a sixth-round draft pick, will also get a look. And then there's running back Reggie Bush, who should provide a wild-card element. Bush won't be a regular on returns, but he could be called upon in key situations if the Lions desperately needed a big play at the time. In 2008, Bush scored three touchdowns and averaged 13.5 yards on 20 punt returns for New Orleans. He has scored four touchdowns on punts in his career, although he wasn't used on returns last year by Miami. Evaluating return men, especially youngsters such as Miller and Edwards, is extremely difficult until a game situation. Teams don't practice live special-teams play very much because of the potential for injuries. The four preseason games should be very important in this evaluation process. "There's nothing like having 10 guys bearing down on you to really tell who can catch and who can make good decisions," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. Based on his experience and track record, Spurlock brings some known quantities to the competition, assuming he can still perform at age 30 and entering his seventh season. "He's been successful doing it," Schwartz said. "It's part of the reason we brought him here. We'll have a lot of different people competing back there, but he'll be one of them. It depends on how he does."
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