Allen Park — While he didn’t say it directly, Detroit Lions special teams coordinator Joe Marciano all but confirmed return man Jamal Agnew will be out an extended period of time with the knee injury he suffered against the Green Bay Packers.
As for who will replace Agnew, an All-Pro as a rookie last season, that isn’t likely to be determined until after the team’s bye week.
“That hasn’t been discussed yet, but it will be,” Marciano said. “All those things are based on staff discussions between myself, head coach, general manager. That conversation will come up before we play Miami. ... We’re not playing for another 10 days. We’ve got time to make a good, intelligent decision.”
Marciano doesn’t believe the team needs to look for outside help. He anticipates the solution is on the roster and discussed four potential candidates for the job — Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Ameer Abdullah and rookie Brandon Powell.
The coach also didn’t rule out splitting the duties.
“I think it’s the best available as a kick returner and best available as a punt returner, whoever that may be.”
Abdullah, Tate and Jones bring varying degrees of experience to the table.
Abdullah, who was active for the first time last Sunday against the Packers, is a strong candidate to handle kickoffs. His only return in the game was a 30-yard effort on the opening kick. But as a rookie, in 2015, he finished second in the NFL with a 29.1-yard average.
Abdullah hasn’t returned a punt in a game for the Lions, but has college experience in the role, and regularly works on it in practice, Marciano said.
That said, Jones and Tate are more likely options to fill the role. Prior to Agnew’s emergence, Jones brought back 13 punts from 2015-17, averaging a serviceable 8.2 yards. He’s been less effective on kickoffs, averaging 21.1 yards.
Tate has the most experience, with 90 punt returns under his belt, and an impressive 10.7-yard average, but he’s only returned two since 2015.
“TJ, I’m sure will be in the conversation,” Marciano said. “We’ve evaluated him since I’ve been here and TJ, Golden, they have no issues fielding punts, decision-making. Fielding punts meaning catching the ball. They have no issues there. They have good judgment.”
The wild card is Powell, the undrafted rookie out of Florida, who has yet to be active on game day but looked electric during the preseason, including an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I’m sure his name will come up,” Marciano said. “He’ll be in the mix. He’ll be in the discussion. …. I don’t think the game is too big for Powell. You can’t say that about everybody. Sometimes the game is too big for a young player, but I don’t think that’s the case (for him). He’s a level-headed kid.”