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How Agnew injury affects return game

Detroit's return units took a blow Monday with the news that All-Pro return man Jamal Agnew is being placed on injured reserve. Agnew suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter of Detroit's 31-23 Week 5 win over Green Bay.

It's unclear how significant the injury is, or if Agnew could return as one of Detroit's two allotted activations off IR later in the season, but in the meantime, the Lions will have to figure out other options at both punt and kickoff return, as well as in the slot cornerback role on defense.

Taking a look at the return jobs specifically, the Lions do have a number of internal options.

"Well, you have to make a staff decision with the head coach, the GM," special teams coordinator Joe Marciano said. "All those meetings are coming up before we play Miami.

"The next guy up mentality. You know that answer, right? That's the way it is."

The likely list of internal candidates includes wide receiver Golden Tate, wide receiver TJ Jones, running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Brandon Powell.

Tate was the primary punt returner in Seattle in 2013, averaging 11.5 yards per return on 51 opportunities.

He returned 20 punts for the Lions in 2015, and also served in that role in a limited basis in 2017. He's returned 90 career punts for an average of 10.7 yards per return.

"He can not only catch the ball, he's pretty good with the ball in his hands," Marciano said of Tate. "I don't think he's ever had an issue with fielding punts in his career or in college. He can catch the ball and he can do something with the ball in his hands, as we know when you see him as a receiver in space."

Jones returned seven punts for the Lions in 2015 and six last season. He also returned five kickoffs in each of those seasons. He's been Detroit's fourth receiver active on game days, so him transitioning into a return role wouldn't require too much finagling of the active roster, since he's already been active for every game this season.

"TJ, I'm sure, will be in the conversation," Marciano said. "I've evaluated him since I've been here. TJ, Golden (Tate), they have no issues fielding punts, decision-making. Fielding punts and catching punts. You have to be able to catch the ball. They have no issues there, they have good judgement."

Abdullah was active for the first time this season against the Packers and was the team's primary kickoff return man. He returned his lone opportunity 30 yards in that contest. Abdullah had the same role as a rookie in 2015. He led the league in total kickoff return yards (1077) and had a 29.1 average.

Abdullah worked as a punt returner all offseason and throughout camp, but has never done it in an NFL game. The last time he's been in that role in a game is back during his sophomore year at Nebraska. He returned 16 punts that season for a 13.1 average.

View the best photos of the special teams from the first five games of the season.

"He's constantly back there catching punts," Marciano said of Abdullah.

Then there's the undrafted rookie in Powell, who returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the preseason this year to help Detroit win in Tampa Bay. He's Detroit's fifth receiver, and hasn't been active on game day yet this season, but did return 17 punts and 33 kickoffs in college at Florida.

"I'm sure he'll come up," Marciano said of Powell. "He'll be in the mix. He'll be in the discussion. You see him catch the ball, you see him get north, you see him make guys miss."

Whichever way the Lions decide to go with their return games, losing Agnew for any amount of time is obviously a big blow. He led the NFL last year averaging 15.4 yards per return and had two punt return touchdowns. He's already had a couple big returns that were called back due to penalties this season. He's dynamic with the football in his hands.

But, like Marciano said, it's next man up for the Lions at the return position. We'll see in the coming days which way they decide to go in Miami on Sunday.

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