Two seasons ago, Jamal Agnew earned himself a selection to the NFL’s All-Pro team as a rookie punt returner, averaging 15.4 yards per return and taking two back for touchdowns.
Playing in just six games last season due to a knee injury, Agnew averaged 4.8 yards per return on 12 attempts. He did, however, make a slightly bigger impact returning kickoffs, averaging 27.0 yards per kick return, with a long of 45 yards.
Agnew, who is back healthy and looking to regain his rookie form, was among a handful of players this spring returning punts and kicks for the Lions. A reserve cornerback in the slot behind starter Justin Coleman on defense, Agnew’s biggest contribution on game day this season could come by retaining his return job this summer.
“He certainly has been (dynamic) in the past,” new Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego said of Agnew. “I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be (moving forward).”
But like all coaches, Bonamego likes options, and he believes he has a multitude of them when it comes to the return game.
“The thing that we’re fortunate on our roster right now is we have a number of players that can catch punts,” he said. “I think that’s probably a very underrated skill. It’s something you can never have too many players on your team that have the ability to do that.”
Along with Agnew, veterans Danny Amendola and TommyLee Lewis returned punts this spring. Amendola has a career 9.5-yard average per punt return on 185 career returns. He’s also returned 152 kickoffs over his 10-year career. Lewis has returned 36 career punts with an impressive 9.3-yard average. He also has experience returning kickoffs.
Receivers Brandon Powell and Tom Kennedy were also in the punt return mix in the spring, and speedy rookie running back Ty Johnson returned kickoffs along with Agnew.
Bonamego, who held the same role with the Lions in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, has a little bit of a different coaching style than Joe Marciano, who was relieved of his duties as Lions special teams coordinator mid-season last year. For Bonamego, ball security is his No. 1 rule in the return game.
“Whether you return it one yard or 100 yards, it starts with catching it and being secure and making good decisions back there,” he said. “There’s really only two acceptable outcomes. The first one is a couple times this year hope to run the extra-point team out there. Every single other time we need to be snapping the ball to Matthew Stafford to start an offensive series.”
Bonamego likes the experience and sure handedness of this group of return men, and the competition that developed this spring for some of those return roles.
Agnew is the favorite to win the job, but Detroit has some experienced options behind him.
View photos from the 2019 Detroit Lions Academy Graduation ceremony held at Ford Field on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 in Detroit.