Lions’ Jamal Agnew making plays in practice, showing his move from CB to WR isn’t a gimmick

Detroit Free Press

When Jamal Agnew caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to end a two-minute drill at the end of Detroit Lions’ practice Saturday, the return specialist and cornerback-turned-wide receiver spiked the ball emphatically to the ground.

“I’m happy,” Agnew said Sunday. “I’m loving it. Obviously, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. But it’s been pretty fun on the offensive side this year.”

A forgotten man on defensive in his first three NFL seasons, Agnew has made a seamless transition to the offensive side of the ball.

He’s playing as the Lions’ No. 2 slot receiver behind Danny Amendola and making plays daily in his bid to win not just a roster spot but to have a role in what should be a dangerous Lions passing game this fall.

On Saturday, it was that punctuation mark of a touchdown to end a spirited practice, and on Sunday he came back with a nice back-shoulder catch on a Matthew Stafford bullet in a red-zone drill. He followed with a contested catch over Tony McRae in one-on-ones.

Agnew saw spot duty on offense in his first two seasons, when he played mostly as a gadget back and rarely touched the ball.

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Last year, when first Marvin Hall, then Marvin Jones, then Kenny Golladay went down with injuries, Agnew moved from cornerback to wide receiver full time.

He played 10 offensive snaps in a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers (and 16 total for the year), but gave no indication he’d be this quick a study at one of the more nuanced positions on the field.

“I think it’s pretty amazing that he’s capable of doing that,” said cornerback Justin Coleman, who’s had his share of one-on-ones against Agnew in camp. He brings a great competitive nature to the offense. They already had a really good receiving corps and then to add Jamal shows that he’s versatile and very talented guy. Definitely help us on that side of the ball and in the special teams area as well.”

Agnew will continue to make his bones as a return man, where he’s flashed All-Pro potential with two touchdown returns in both the 2017 and 2019 seasons.

But the former high school running back said he had no trepidation about making a mostly permanent position change — he said he’s “primarily” been in offense meetings this summer — despite entering the final year of his rookie contract while not having the benefit of a formal offseason program because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m fully confident in my ability to learn, adapt and get better,” Angew said. “Like I said, I want to do whatever I can to help the team, whether that’s special teams, defense, offense. I tell Matty P (Lions coach Matt Patricia) all the time, I can do it all. But I definitely wasn’t concerned at all because I’m a pretty quick learner, it was just a matter of going out there on the field and executing everything.”

While the lack of an offseason cost Agnew thousands of reps at his new position, he said it also gave him time to fully understand the move.

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“We had a crazy offseason,” Agnew said. “But I think this offseason really helped me a lot personally, just cause I got the opportunity to just sit back and learn everything, digest everything. Obviously, I’m starting from scratch. Formations, different type of shifts and hots. So I think the offseason definitely helped me where I can just sit down and just dive into the playbook and just learn as much as possible, as fast as possible.”

Now, the challenge is putting all that learning to action.

Golladay, Jones and Amendola are locked into the top receiver spots, and Hall and rookie Quintez Cephus have had strong camps.

Agnew looks like he belongs at his new position, too, and he’s having a ball showing it.

“They expect me to come in, know what I got to do and do my job at a high level,” he said. “And I’m fine with that. I hold myself accountable to that anyway, so I’m ready for anything.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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