Lions' Brayden Coombs gives Jamal Agnew grief after return man tackled by a kicker

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

After suggesting the Detroit Lions were on the verge of breaking a long kick return multiple times the past several weeks, the team finally made good on coordinator Brayden Coombs prediction when Jamal Agnew brought back a fourth-quarter kickoff 71 yards against the Green Bay Packers.

The long gain thrust Agnew into the top-10 in kickoff return average, netted the Lions three points on the possession and temporarily kept the team’s hopes afloat in what ultimately ended up being a losing effort. Coombs had plenty of praise to spread around for the effort, but made sure to single out one unsung contributor.

Packers kicker Mason Crosby pushes Lions returner Jamal Agnew out of bounds on a late kick return in the fourth quarter last Sunday at Ford Field.

“Obviously we’ve been looking for one of those, felt like we were close and just a matter of bringing it all the way through,” Coombs said. “As far as singling out a couple guys, it was really, a total group effort,” Coombs said. “I think 10 out of 11 guys graded out 100% on that play, which is rare to get that many guys doing their job on the same play effectively. I guess if I had to say a guy, probably the key block at the point of attack was Bobby Price, actually, playing in his, I think, second game. Had a really difficult assignment and made it really, really good block.”

Coombs didn’t mention the player who failed to fully execute their assignment, other than to say it wasn’t Agnew. Still, that didn’t stop the coordinator from poking fun at his return man, who was brought down by kicker Mason Crosby on the play.

“I wish we could’ve finished it,” Coombs said. “(Agnew) will have to put a couple dollars in the swear jar this week. We don’t get tackled by kickers and punters here. He’ll have to pony up there, but it was good to see him make a play. Sometimes those things come in bunches, so hopefully that opens the floodgates for us.”

Agnew, a pending free agent, is still best-known for his return skills. He made the difficult transition from cornerback to wide receiver this offseason, but has seen just 167 snaps on offense this season. In that playing time, he’s caught 12 passes for 76 yards and carried the ball five times for another 26 yards.

Asked about his future earlier this week, Agnew said he’d love to stick in Detroit.

“Man, I love Michigan,” Agnew said. “I mean, this is really my first time away from home. You know, I went to college in my hometown (San Diego), so it’s just like this is my first time being away from home. Michigan will always be home to me. It’s been my first time being on my own, so I’ll always call Michigan home. I would love to be here. But, you know, you never know. It’s a business. I only can control what I can control.”

Onside issues

The big return was another feather in the cap for Coombs, who has seen his units consistently deliver throughout his first season as a coordinator. And they came inches away from another huge play against the Packers when the Lions nearly recovered an onside kick in the closing minutes.

Recovering an onside kick has gone from difficult to nearly impossible after the NFL implemented new kickoff rules in 2018. Included in those changes was the elimination of a running start for anyone other than the kicker, as well as limiting how many players could line up on one side of the field.

In 2020, 58 onside kicks have been attempted, while just three have been recovered by the kicking team.

The limited usage and even more limited success of onside kicks in the grand scheme of special teams leaves Coombs little time to think about and design plays, so he leans on his specialists, namely kicker Matt Prater and punter Jack Fox, to come up with ideas. The attempt on Sunday had both kickers on the field and was something Fox had designed, watching a similar attempt by the Los Angeles Rams earlier this season.

The slow, dribbling kick went out of bounds before safety Miles Killebrew could secure possession of the ball. 

“Theirs was a little bit slower moving,” Coombs said. “Jack’s had a little more bounce to it, but kind of the same sort of spin towards that 10-yard line. To me, that’s really the only place for creativity right now. …We try our best to come up with something that just puts pressure on the opponent, similar to how we talked (a few weeks) back with the punt-rush stuff. Just always trying to put them in a high-pressure environment and open the door for them to make a mistake and give us an opportunity.”

Ragnow misses the cut

Center Frank Ragnow, Detroit’s nominee for the Art Rooney sportsmanship award, didn’t make the cut as one of the eight finalists for the honor.

Four finalists from each conference were selected by a panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community, featuring Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler. The finalists are Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell, Indianapolis defensive end Justin Houston, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater from the AFC and Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David, San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce from the NFC.

The eight finalists will be listed on the Pro Bowl ballot and players are prohibited from voting for their teammate. The winner will be announced the week of the Super Bowl.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers