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NOTEBOOK: Agnew brings speed to Lions' offense

Posted Nov 9, 2017

Tim Twentyman covers all the news from Thursday's practice including Jamal Agnew's time on offense, T.J. Lang's status and more.

The last time Detroit Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew played on offense was back in high school, when he was a  160-pound “soaking wet” fullback in a non-conventional fly offense that featured split backs with a lot of sweeps, counters and misdirection.

He went on to play cornerback exclusively in college at San Diego, and also returned punts. He was drafted by the Lions in the fifth round this year to play nickel corner and return punts.

Over Detroit’s bye a couple weeks back, Agnew was approached by receivers coach Robert Prince as the offensive coaches wanted to involve Agnew in some packages on their side of the ball due to the speed and flashy open-field running he’s shown returning punts. 

“They came up to me after the first practice on the bye week and they were like, ‘yeah, we got a couple things for you,” and it just took off from there,” Agnew said Thursday.

Agnew ran a jet sweep against the Steelers coming out of the bye for a 12-yard gain that head coach Jim Caldwell said afterward was a bye week “wrinkle” they installed.

That one-play vs. Pittsburgh turned into three snaps on offense for Agnew vs. Green Bay Monday night. He ran it once (four yards) and was involved in the play fakes on the other two.

The Lions like Agnew’s 4.3 speed and his open-field running ability, two things that have served him well while leading the NFL in punt-return yards (291), punt-return average (19.4) and return touchdowns (2).

Don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter continues to look for ways to get Agnew the ball in space on offense.

“If you hand the ball he can really threaten a defense, which he’s got really, really good speed, sometimes that can open up some other things,” Cooter said Thursday. “So, Jamal’s done a nice job.

"It’s not easy having to you know ... being a rookie, being a young guy in this league and being asked to do something on the other side of the ball. And he’s done a nice job with that and we look to continue to sort of look around and utilize our resources.”

Agnew says he initially felt out of place at practice in the offensive huddle. The offense and defense wear different color jerseys in practice, and he was the only one with a white jersey in the offensive huddle.

“(The DB’s) all give me stuff, especially (Darius) Slay,” Agnew said of his defensive teammates’ reaction to his time on offense at practice. “Slay is a little jealous. He’s been wanting to play offense for a while. Every time he sees me in there he’s like, ’39 is getting the ball, somebody hit him.’ They give me stuff in the DB room for it.”

But Agnew says he loves it, and will do whatever is asked of him -- whether it's offense, defense or special teams -- to help this team win football games.

LANG IN CONCUSSION PROTOCOL

The Lions opened their practice week Wednesday with right guard T.J. Lang on the field. Thursday, there was no Lang.

Caldwell announced before Thursday’s practice that Lang has been placed in the concussion protocol. Lang began experiencing symptoms during Wednesday’s practice. He was listed with an illness on Wednesday’s practice report, but was later diagnosed with a concussion after doctors were able to evaluate him further after practice.

Lang’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Browns now comes into doubt.

"After the ballgame was over with, sometimes these things don't manifest themselves until between 24 and 72 hours, and this is one of those cases," Caldwell said Thursday. "He was fine, no issues, all the way up until (Wednesday). We start practice, and as practice starts, he gets ill.

“So, we take him out of practice, get him inside and then the doctors don't come until after we finished with obviously submitting our medical report. After they had an opportunity to look at him, we determined he should be placed in the concussion protocol. So that's where he is at this particular point in time."

Lang missed one game earlier this year with a back injury. Emmett Cleary got the start in his place. Don Barclay is also on the roster as a reserve guard.

TABOR CONTRIBUTES ON DEFENSE

The Lions have taken a slow approach to second-round pick Teez Tabor’s rookie season. They have good depth at cornerback, they’ve stayed relatively healthy there, and history tells us that rookie cornerbacks typically don’t have a lot of success in this league right away anyways.

When Tabor has been active on gameday, he's played on special teams. That is until Monday’s game in Green Bay. Tabor got in on 11 snaps as an extra inside defender in a dime package in Detroit’s 30-17 win.

Lions fifth-year cornerback Darius Slay was thrown into the fire as a rookie and struggled. When asked about Tabor on Thursday, Slay said he thinks what the Lions are doing with him is definitely the right approach.

“He’s just like me as a rookie coming in learning the game,” Slay said. “I think our coaches did good not throwing him into that fire and putting him in in the right time to get comfortable and not lose confidence.

“I got thrown into the fire (as a rookie). First game, first seconds, I was in the fire. It was rough for me. I think our coaches are doing a good job preparing him for this game. It’s a tough game, and a business, and they’re doing a really good job.”

Slay said Tabor is learning all the tricks to the trade that make young cornerbacks successful in this league. He called it a process, even if the fans can’t see it.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was asked about Tabor’s defensive debut Monday night. He said Tabor held his own.

“I think anytime you can get a guy some live action that’s beneficial to him,” Austin said. “He’s done some good things. He’s been practicing well. He’s been doing a lot of good things so we think it was time for him to try to get some reps, get him some experience moving forward.”

That started Monday by playing inside as a hybrid linebacker/cornerback in the dime.

“I think he’s a guy that can play nickel,” Austin said. “He played some nickel in college so we moved him inside, and that gives us an opportunity, some flexibility because of his height.

“If we run into a situation where we have a receiving tight end, we have some different things, maybe a four-wide group that we can play him either inside or out, we have flexibility to do that. So, and he’s smart enough to do it and that’s why we did it.”