Detroit Lions minicamp observations: Jamal Agnew more than just a return man
Jamal Agnew was just starting to play a bigger role on defense when he hurt his left knee and missed most of last season.
An All-Pro return man as a rookie, Agnew has said he wants to be more than just a special-teams player, and at the second practice of mandatory minicamp Wednesday, he showed a glimpse of his coverage ability.
With free-agent addition Justin Coleman once again sitting out team drills, Agnew played as the top inside cornerback in the Detroit Lions' sub-package defenses and delivered the play of practice.
During a full-team drill towards the end of practice, Agnew trailed Brandon Powell out of the slot on a deep corner route. Powell appeared to have a step on the third-year cornerback, but Agnew saw something in Powell that made him turn his head at just the right time to swat the ball away.
Agnew left the media pen after practice before I could get to him as he had treatment scheduled, but he's a true wildcard in a secondary that still has major questions at the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay.
Rashaan Melvin continues to work as the No. 2 outside corner and is the favorite to win the job, and the Lions paid Coleman a boatload of money to be their primary slot defender.
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But there's a whole logjam of cornerbacks after that, and with the amount of dime and quarter defense the Lions use, Agnew has a chance to carve out a role on defense.
Agnew's numbers as a punt returner dipped significantly before his injury last year – he averaged 4.8 yards a punt return in 2018, compared to 15.4 yards a return in 2017 – and though new special-teams coordinator John Bonamego insisted last week that Agnew remains elite in that area, the more the 2017 fifth-round pick can do the better his chances of making this team.
The Lions continued to focus on third-down situations on Day 2 of minicamp.
Here are some more observations from practice:
• The Lions shook up their offensive line Wednesday for the first time time in the practices we've seen this spring, but I wouldn't read too much into the changes. Joe Dahl (left guard) and Oday Aboushi (right guard) took first-team reps, while Kenny Wiggins (left guard) and Graham Glasgow (right guard) worked with the second team.
Matt Patricia has said often that spring is a good time to experiment with different lineups and give players experience at different positions, and that's all this was. The left guard spot is the only one on the offensive line that's truly up for grabs, and it should be noted that both Glasgow and swing tackle Tyrell Crosby worked as part of the first unit (along with Aboushi and Rick Wagner, in a rotation) during the Lions' rush period.
• I wrote about Teez Tabor in Tuesday's observations and the good things he did at practice. Well, Wednesday wasn't his most banner day. Chris Lacy blew past Tabor on the first play of an 11-on-11 period and would have scored a run-away touchdown if he didn't have to wait for a pass from Matthew Stafford, and Travis Fulgham got behind Tabor in a seven-on-seven drill, though the pass was incomplete.
Tabor's issues with the deep ball aren't going away, and as I wrote yesterday, he's still going to have to earn a roster spot this summer.
• Lacy, by the way, has worked with the No. 1 group of receivers all spring with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay out. He made a nice catch Wednesday over Melvin on a beautiful pass from Stafford, but also had one drop and and another pass deflect off his hands (though I think there was a miscommunication on the second play as the pass seemed to be intended for Powell, who was in the same area). Lacy uses his big body (6 feet 3, 205 pounds) well on the field and should be in the mix for a roster spot come camp.
• This has been the case for a couple years now, but the Lions are screwed if anything happens to Stafford. It wasn't a good day for either backup quarterback Tom Savage or Connor Cook. Savage threw a terrible interception when he rolled left in an 11-on-11 drill to buy time – he almost certainly would have been sacked in a game – and then threw a panic ball to no one in particular that basically hit safety Andrew Adams in the chest. A few plays later, Cook threw a shallow crossing route well behind intended receiver Brandon Reilly.
At some point, the Lions really do need to find a reliable backup.
• One defensive player who made my notes a time or two Wednesday: Cornerback Marcus Cooper. He saw some spot duty late last season so he's not a complete unknown, but he made a nice play to break up a jump ball to T.J. Hockenson early in practice and played smothering coverage on Fulgham, the rookie sixth-round pick, in the same red-zone drill.
The Lions have a number of cornerbacks in front of Cooper on the depth chart, but Cooper was a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams a few years ago so remember his name for the summer.
• Kerryon Johnson is going to have a big year for the Lions. It's tough to tell much about the running game with no pads on this time of year, but Johnson hits the hole hard every time he touches the ball. He's going to top 1,000 yards rushing this year – easily – if he stays healthy.
• The Lions had a little fun at the end of practice Wednesday, pitting offensive and defensive players in what looked like a field-goal kicking competition. I couldn't tell who all made all kicks as the media was sequestered far away from the field awaiting interviews, but whenever someone did they received big applause from their teammates. Jarrad Davis did make one kick, though, and the defense beat the offense, which had to do push-ups for losing.
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