Custom Jamal Agnew Jersey Large

Detroit Lions return man Jamal Agnew’s 2018 season was a disaster, and it looked for a minute like his 2019 season might be worse.

But after a rough start to the year, including a muffed punt in the season’s first game, an ankle injury that kept him out three weeks and a brief benching, Agnew is set to close his third NFL season with a bang.

Agnew scored his second return touchdown of the season last week against the Denver Broncos and he heads into Sunday’s season finale against the Green Bay Packers as one of two qualifying players who rank in the top 10 in both kick- and punt-return average.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia.

Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Eric Hartline USA TODAY Sports)

“It’s definitely nice just because I haven’t had many opportunities this year,” Agnew said. “A lot of teams have been either kicking it out the end zone or trying to force fair catches. But I’m just grateful for that opportunity. I knew they don’t come in bunches, but just to take advantage of that and help the team try to get a win. I’m just happy to do that.”

[ Agnew rebounds from ‘rough 2 weeks’ with 100-yard kickoff TD return vs. Eagles ]

Agnew was one of the most electric return men in the NFL as a rookie in 2017, when he returned two punts for touchdowns and led the league with a 15.4-yard average on punt returns.

Last year, he missed 10 games with a knee injury and was only mildly effective when he was on the field, averaging a paltry 4.8 yards per punt return.

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Agnew won an open competition for both return jobs this year, but he muffed a punt in the Lions’ season-opening tie with the Arizona Cardinals and fumbled away another punt in a Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers only to have that turnover nullified by offsetting penalties.

The Lions took Agnew off their return team during the Chargers game, but went back to him a week later and were rewarded when he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

In last week’s loss to the Broncos, Agnew scored on a 64-yard return, the seventh longest in the NFL this year, and he played four decoy snaps at receiver as the Lions tried to jumpstart their sputtering offense.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew catches the ball before running back a 100-yard touchdown return during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia.

Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew catches the ball before running back a 100-yard touchdown return during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Bill Streicher USA TODAY Sports)

“Everybody blocked (the touchdown) pretty well,” Agnew said. “He was doing the end-over-end Aussie kick. I think he was trying to force a fair catch. But the jammers on the right side held up real good, so I knew I had room, so I caught it and just let my feet do the rest, honestly.”

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The Packers didn’t give Agnew much of a chance to return punts in their October meeting, and given the Lions’ offensive struggles it’d be a surprise if they kicked to him Sunday.

But after Agnew’s early-season ups and downs, Lions coach Matt Patricia said Friday he was happy to see his return man finish on a high note.

“Obviously, I think he’s a dynamic player. He can turn any play into a big play at any time,” Patricia said. “So it’s good to see him out there. I think he gives a great charge to the team and we all know he can make those big plays, so we’re excited when he’s out there, and I think that encourages and lifts everybody up to do their job a little bit better in those situations. It’d be great to get another, obviously, big play out of him this weekend.”
Briefly

Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson will miss his third straight game Sunday with a shoulder injury. The Lions listed five players as questionable: Right tackle Rick Wagner (knee), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring), kicker Matt Prater (illness), linebacker Steve Longa (quad) and safety Tavon Wilson (hamstring). … The Lions promoted linebacker Anthony Pittman from the practice squad to fill the roster spot that came open when they put Jahlani Tavai on injured reserve earlier this week. … According to ESPN, the Lions did a simple restructure on Matthew Stafford’s contract, converting a $6 million roster bonus he was due in March to a signing bonus. The move allows the Lions to prorate that cap hit over the life of the contract. ESPN reported the deal saves the Lions $4.8 million in cap room next season, which means the Lions added a voidable year to the end of the deal.

Custom Devon Kennard Jersey Large

Devon Kennard has heard the joke before.

The Detroit Lions linebacker is involved with so many causes that help metro Detroit youth — from funding scholarships, encouraging reading, raising money for worthy causes, adopting a family at Thanksgiving and working on social-justice and social-resiliency initiatives — it wouldn’t be hard to believe that being a role model is Kennard’s full-time job and that his NFL gig is just a side hustle.

“Hey, I’m very efficient,” the Lions’ co-leader in sacks said with a laugh. “People joke all the time. I’m not a guy that wastes a lot of time. Like I’ve got extra film to (study), I lock in, turn the phone off, get the film done. I go home and spend some time with my family. Then I got the off-the-field stuff. Definitely stay busy.”

Because of all his good deeds, Kennard recently was named the Lions’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced Feb. 1. All nominees received a donation of up to $50,000 for their charity of choice, which for Kennard is the Midnight Golf Program of Detroit.

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Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

“He’s always been a guy that wants to make an impact off the field in the community,” Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara said. “That’s something I definitely look up to as well. As a teammate he’s definitely someone I look up to as far as setting a good example for what it takes to be a real pro.”

The NFL encourages its players to be active in their communities. Some give money. Some give their time. Kennard gives both.

In August 2018, his first season with the Lions, Kennard met Midnight Golf students at training camp and he was instantly taken with them. In 2001, Renee Fluker founded the program that mentors 265 high school seniors four nights a week at Marygrove College through life-skills training and proactive coaching.

“I just go and hang out with the kids,” Kennard said. “Honestly, they’re operating so well that it’s cool just to sit back and watch for a while. Every time I go, I end up speaking to the kids, sharing whatever’s in my ear that day and opening it up for Q and A.”

Kennard makes it seem like it’s not a big deal. But Fluker knows better.
Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

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“Last (week) he came out and did a presentation,” she said. “The kids were so excited he was there. He told his story about how he went to college and became an NFL player. Just a little background about how passionate he is about young people.

“They’re so excited about him. He’s a great young man, a great role model.”

In the spring, Kennard attended the Midnight Golf closing ceremony and gave $5,000 scholarships to Maya Solomon, who has a 4.0 grade-point average at Florida A&M, and to Jalen Fountain, who has a 3.5 GPA at Eastern Michigan.

But Kennard didn’t make it easy. He has a passion for reading. Last year, he was featured on the PBS series “The Great American Read” and spoke about Gary Paulson’s inspiring young-adult novel “Hatchet.” He wanted the scholarship applicants to explain how they were inspired by a book and they in turn didn’t make it easy for him to choose two winners.
Lions linebacker Devon Kennard awards two scholarships at the Midnight Golf graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 9, 2019, in Detroit.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard awards two scholarships at the Midnight Golf graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 9, 2019, in Detroit. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

“I just loved the work they were doing,” he said of Midnight Golf. “I felt there was a need there and there are some very bright kids. I wanted to encourage them to read books and really reflect on some books they read, so I created a scholarship.

“So I asked them to choose a book, read it and not only give me a summary of the book but talk about the impact it had on their life, what they learned from the book, how they can apply it to their life. I ended up getting over 60 applications. I read every single one personally myself.”

Need comes in different forms. Kennard met D’Anyra Jones through Midnight Golf and when her mother wasn’t working during Thanksgiving in 2018, Kennard adopted the family and provided them with a Thanksgiving meal and gave them tickets to a Lions game. Jones is a freshman at Bowling Green University and has a 4.0 GPA.

Kennard also donates his time at the Downtown Boxing Gym, which serves about 150 students from 57 schools across metro Detroit. Around Thanksgiving, Kennard joined Matthew Stafford, Danny Amendola and Jarrad Davis to surprise the gym with a new Ford Transit 15-passenger van to transport students.
Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard picks up a fumble for touchdown against the Giants during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019.

Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard picks up a fumble for touchdown against the Giants during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

Another important cause for Kennard is Detroit Lions Inspire Change, a player-driven social justice initiative he was instrumental in launching after the 2018 season. This summer, Kennard and some teammates met with Detroit police and a panel of male students to discuss finding success despite negative circumstances.

“We had real talks about social resiliency,” he said, “what they’re going through, how to overcome adversity, some challenges they’re facing and how to deal with it.

“And a message I really wanted to send is they’re at a pivotal point in their lives and the decisions I made at their age are having a ripple effect now. And I had friends who made bad decisions at their age and they’re dealing with the repercussions of that as well. So the decisions they make will greatly impact their lives. Moving forward, what kind of decisions are you going to make?”

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Kennard said the players’ efforts in 2018 helped support several organizations that Lions owner Martha Ford also has helped support.

“Last year, we raised a bunch of money between what we did in the locker room and Mrs. Ford matching it,” he said. “We want to do the same this year and really start to take strides with that and raise more money.”

The money is great. So are causes. But mostly, to Kennard, it’s about time. He makes sure not to waste it so that he can spend it being around kids and doing whatever he can to help.

“My approach has always been that the best thing you can give to our youth is time,” he said. “I take the position I’m in seriously of being a role model to kids like that. Just be there. Just hang out for a while and shoot the (breeze) for a little while and just talk.”

Custom Don Muhlbach Jersey Large

ALLEN PARK — Don Muhlbach was working at a bank in East Texas when he got the call from the Detroit Lions. He hopped on a plane, played for the club the following Sunday and has served as the team’s long snapper ever since.

That call, by the way, happened in 2004.

Muhlbach has gone on to play 244 games for Detroit, which ties him for 56th on the NFL’s all-time games played list. He didn’t miss a single game in the last decade, starting all 160 games. And by all accounts, he remains one of the top players at the position at 38 years old.

But general manager Bob Quinn acquired competition for the job once before, selecting long snapper Jimmy Landes in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and now he’s done it again, signing former North Dakota State long snapper James Fisher to a futures contract on Monday. Fisher has not appeared in an NFL game since turning pro last year.

Punters Jack Fox and Matt Wile were also signed to futures deals, as Detroit begins to rework its special teams. Sam Martin has handled the punting duties since Detroit took him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, but is eligible to hit free agency in March.

Detroit signed 11 players to futures deals overall, including receiver Victor Bolden, receiver Jonathan Duhart, safety A.J. Howard, receiver Tom Kennedy, defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu, linebacker Christian Sam and guard Casey Tucker.

That’s basically Detroit’s practice squad to finish the regular season, minus quarterback Joe Callahan.

Any player not on a team at the end of the regular season is eligible to be signed to a futures contract, while everybody else is off limits until the start of free agency in March. Futures contracts work just like regular contracts, except they count against the next season’s salary cap and roster limit. Teams can begin signing players to such deals once their season is over.

Custom Jalen Reeves-Maybin Jersey Large

Reeves-Maybin racked up nine tackles on a career-high 65 defensive snaps during Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Broncos.

Down starting linebackers Jarrad Davis (ankle) and Christian Jones (shoulder), the Lions turned to Reeves-Maybin to handle a large role and the 24-year-old produced nicely. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he at minimum made for a solid source of production. With Jahlani Tavai (shoulder) now on the shelf as well, Reeves-Maybin should get all the playing time he can handle during Sunday’s season finale against the Packers.