After a rookie season in 2017 that saw Jamal Agnew make his biggest impact as a punt returner, the former fifth-round pick out of San Diego was earning a larger role on defense last season as a nickel corner before injuring his knee Week 5 vs. Green Bay and missing the rest of the year.
The Lions signed veteran Justin Coleman in free agency this offseason to man that slot corner spot, and he’s primarily been in that role through the first week of camp.
While Agnew continues to battle for a role on defense, he knows he can make an immediate impact on special teams. He’s hoping to return to his All-Pro form from 2017, when he led the league with a 15.4 punt return average and returned two punts for touchdowns.
“This offseason I focused on rehabbing and getting back to my old form,” Agnew said after a recent training camp practice. “Staying healthy is the key to the game. They say availability is the best ability. I’m just focused on trying to stay healthy and taking it one day at a time. Just trying to get back to my old self.”
Agnew’s looked as explosive as ever so far in training camp. He’s electric with the ball in his hands in the open field, and there doesn’t look to be any lingering effects from last year’s knee injury.
Along with being the team punt return man, Agnew’s hoping to win the kick return job. He will have some competition for that job in rookie running back Ty Johnson.
“I just love having the ball in my hands,” Agnew said. “We have good competition back there, Ty was real good back in college. Any opportunity I can get to get the ball in my hands, I would love it. We have great competition back there, so the best man is going to be out there.”
Whether it’s playing slot corner or returning punts and kickoffs, Agnew just wants to get back to being an impact player for this team.
“The more you can do the more you can contribute on the field,” Agnew said. “That’s how you’ll make the team, to be honest. Versatility is huge in this system.”