Detroit Lions: With Jamal Agnew out, Nevin Lawson could see time at nickel

Lawson details differences in responsibilities

ALLEN PARK >> Jamal Agnew won’t be replaced by just one of his teammates, it will take a village.

The Detroit Lions nickel back, who is a return specialist and occasionally pitches in on offense, was placed on injured reserve on Monday for a knee injury sustained in the win over the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 7.

“He’s obviously a very valuable player to our team. Really can do a great job of turning field position, does a great job when he’s out there at gunner, plays defense. So, a pretty multiple, versatile player for us,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “But that’s the nature of the game. We have guys that are going to have to step up and fill those roles whether it’s one person or multiple guys. We’ll just try to put the best guy out there that we can.”

Patricia would not say if Agnew will return this season. It could be too soon to know.

“That’s the good thing about that kind of designation is we have options. If we get to that point where we can expedite him or use him, then we’ll try to do that. But it’s just a matter of time right now,’’ Patricia said.

He also wouldn’t clarify if Agnew will have surgery, saying he is still being evaluated.

After the injury, Nevin Lawson moved from corner to nickel to fill in for Agnew. So it’s possible that Lawson could fill in on Sunday when the Lions play the Dolphins in Miami. Don’t be surprised if Ameer Abdullah gets the nod on returns.

Lawson is good with playing nickel and said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to position.

“I just want to be on the field so I can be out there competing and playing,’’ Lawson said on Monday. “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you are, you still going to have a chance to make plays..’’

Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni love their players to be versatile.

“It’s two different roles, on the outside it’s really an island, you’re really by yourself,’’ Lawson said. “When you’re playing the nickel you have to constantly communicate with the safeties and the linebackers. It’s definitely different just knowing what to do and make sure you know what to do and you, the linebackers and safeties are on the same page.’’

With this new Patricia-style defense it occasionally looks like a corner has moved into nickel, but Lawson said things aren’t always how they look. A corner could move inside covering a certain receiver and that doesn’t necessarily make him a nickel.

“It’s different when a guy is playing inside mostly the whole game, that’s when he’s truly a nickel,’’ Lawson said.

He also specified that tackling is more important when playing inside.

“It’s important playing corner, but it’s definitely more important playing slot because you’re asked to add to the run game so you have to be able to come up and make tackles as well, not just tackles you have to make good open-field tackles,’’ Lawson explained.

 

Detroit Lions wide receiver trio takes a certain pride in run blocking

Tate, Golladay, Jones contribute to improved run game

ALLEN PARK — Robert Prince, the Detroit Lions wide receivers coach, knows his group is loaded with talent.

The skillsets of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay complement each other and they all have developed good communication with quarterback Matthew Stafford. The trio accounts for nine of the Lions 10 passing touchdowns in the first five games.

Prince wants receivers who are well-rounded.

Proof? Tate set a key block on Sunday during LeGarrette Blount’s second touchdown in the 31-23 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s a game plan thing. It depends on what they are going to do. I feel like Coach Prince, our position coach, prepares us moreso for the run blocking than he does the passes at times,’’ Tate said on Monday.

He wasn’t kidding.

“It’s so important and he knows we all can run routes, he knows we all can catch, he knows we all can block as well, but when a receiver goes in and makes a key block to help a big first down or touchdown I think he gets more excited about that, showing that to the other coaches and Bob Quinn in front of the offensive linemen and running backs, than us going out and catching a touchdown. That’s what we’re supposed to do I guess,’’ Tate said.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Improving the run game was a huge focus entering this season. Credit rookie Kerryon Johnson and the veteran Blount with providing a one-two punch that has the Lions averaging 4.3 yards per carry (tied for 13th in the NFL) and 97.2 rushing yards per game (21st in NFL).

Credit the wide receivers with pitching in on run blocks.

“The way defenses are playing now days, when you have a run game they bring those safeties in the box and they read the run pretty danged well. Sometimes they have an extra guy and you need the receiver to go in through certain linemen or just find a way to get on them,’’ Tate said. “A lot of times that is the block that springs a 7- or 10-yard run or even break a 50-yarder or a run at the goal line. It’s very important especially in this offense. It’s something I know that Bob Quinn looks for in a receiver — a guy who can catch the ball but also can do the dirty work.’’

Funny he used the words “dirty work” — the exact words coach Matt Patricia used to describe Tate’s efforts to help block the run.

“He’s usually closer to the formation being in his normal alignment so he kind of has to dig some of those guys out and get in there pretty quick, which he does a good job of,’’ Patricia said.

The wide receivers take a certain pride in this phase of their work.

“It’s not difficult, but you have to be in the right mind frame, if you’re not you’re not going to block effectively, especially when you’re blocking somebody 250 or 200-and-whatever (pounds). You have to be in the right mind frame, you have to do your job,’’ Jones said. “We have the receivers to do it. I don’t think it’s been that hard, we just have to do it.’’

Lions Matt Patricia says Ziggy Ansah doing his best to get back on the field

Defensive end has missed 4 straight games

ALLEN PARK — It would be in Ziggy Ansah’s best interest to play since he’ll hit the open market after this season. The message from Lions coach Matt Patricia on Monday was that when Ansah is physically ready he will play.

Since signing the $17 million franchise tag before training camp, Ansah has played 19 snaps. The Detroit Lions Pro-Bowl defensive end injured his shoulder in the first half of the opening loss to the N.Y. Jets and hasn’t played since.

Patricia doesn’t like to talk about injuries and seems frustrated that he still has to field questions about the oft-injured Ansah.

Patricia’s first response to an Ansah question on Monday: “Next question. Let’s talk about something real important here.”

Then he clarified his thoughts.

The guy’s trying every single day to get back out there. So, that’s what it is. Don’t make it anything more than that. That guy’s a competitive guy, wants to play football, he’s trying to do the best he can to help this team,’’ Patricia said.  “He’s day-by-day. We’re taking it day-by-day and we’re trying to get him ready to go. As soon as he can go, he’ll help us.”

He did practice last week on a limited basis, but was inactive for Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

Ansah missed part of training camp because he injured his hamstring during his conditioning tests. He was also recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Ansah played in 14 games last season and 13 in 2013.

The Lions have a bye this Sunday so it gives Ansah and the other injured players an extra week to heal before they play at the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 21.