Versatile Lions Jamal Agnew a DB at heart, but loves his snaps on offense

Rookie has returned two punts for touchdowns

ALLEN PARK — Jamal Agnew says defense is his bread and butter.

Yet, the Lions rookie cornerback has had opportunities on offense the past two games. He is  loving it.

“I’m in the defensive meetings and the receivers coach (Robert) Prince pulls me out and says, ‘Agnew, we need you for a second. You’ll be playing offense a little bit.’ I said. ‘I’ll take it in stride.’ I love it as long as we’re winning. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

One reason Agnew was drafted in the fifth round was his blazing speed. He ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He has played just one snap on defense in the first eight games, but he has scored a pair of touchdowns as a punt returner. For a rookie he definitely has contributed.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“Obviously, he’s good in space, and he’s got speed. Whether it will continue, every game is a little bit different. So, served us well a couple times there. It doesn’t mean we’ll go back to it again, but it’s always that possibility,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said.

Agnew made his offensive debut in the loss to the Steelers on Oct. 29. On a first-and-10 at the 50, he caught a 12-yard pass. That was his only offensive snap of the game.

In the win at Green Bay on Monday night, he gained four yards on a first-and-10 at the Packers’ 45.

“I really only have a couple things they put in, they didn’t want to overwhelm me. I basically know what I’m doing every time,’’ Agnew said on Thursday. “They basically keep it simple so I’m not out there running like a chicken with my head cut off. Like last game I was used as a decoy a couple times, I’m all for that as long as it helps us win.’’

He didn’t play offense at all while at San Diego State where he was a defensive back.

He did play on the other side of the ball at San Diego Point Loma High School where they ran an unconventional “fly” offense. He was used as a running back, receiver and fullback.

“I weighed 160 soaking wet,’’ Agnew said when quizzed about being a fullback.

These days he’s 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds.

Conventional wisdom says cornerbacks don’t have good receiving skills but Agnew disagrees.

“I have hands, I can catch the ball. You hear that stereotype a lot. I know a lot of cornerbacks that have great hands. We have a lot of corners on this team that have great hands but I think I have pretty good hands,’’ Agnew said.

Caldwell does not expect Agnew to make a full move to offense. “I don’t foresee that transition. He is what he is. I think he’s a very, very good nickel, but he also does obviously some things for us in the return game as well,’’ Caldwell said.

Agnew said it’s a little odd at practice being the only guy with a different colored jersey in the offense huddle but he’s been welcomed with open arms.

“I love having the rock in my hands but I played defense most of my life so that’s my bread and butter right there,’’ Agnew said. “I was born and raised in the DB room so I can’t leave.’’

He gets a little good-natured grief from his fellow defensive backs.

“They all give me stuff, especially (Darius) Slay. Slay is a little jealous, he’s been wanting to play offense for a while,’’ Agnew said. “So everytime he sees me in there he says, ‘Hey 39 is getting the ball, somebody hit him.’’’

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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