Lions possess rookie weapon on special teams

Return game coming to "forefront" as weather turns colder


GREEN BAY -- For all the talk about Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Ameer Abdullah, there's another weapon in the Lions' arsenal that has the Packers' attention.

Rookie punt returner Jamal Agnew already has brought back two punts for touchdowns this season, and the fifth-round pick out of San Diego is averaging a hefty 21.7 yards on 13 returns. Not letting the speedy Agnew get loose on Monday night at Lambeau Field is a huge priority for Green Bay's special teams.

"The stats speak for themselves, but you watch the video and it falls right in line," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said prior to Friday's practice. "We're talking about winter football. The return game is going to come to the forefront here. Opportunities are going to go up. We've been covering very well on punts, but this will be a big challenge for us. We want to get our return game going, too."

Green Bay return man Trevor Davis has looked close to breaking a punt return at times this season, and as the weather gets colder, not as many kickoffs will go flying to the back of the end zone, so he'll get more kick-return chances, too. A strong running game and solid pass protection are good friends to any new quarterback, but field position can certainly help Brett Hundley as well.

Also on special teams, long snapper Taybor Pepper was going to miss Friday's practice with a foot injury, and McCarthy said, "We're concerned about it." The injury occurred during Thursday's practice, putting his availability for Monday's game in doubt. Tight end Richard Rodgers is the Packers' backup long snapper at the moment.

The offense could be without one of his perimeter targets on Monday night, as McCarthy mentioned tight end Martellus Bennett would miss his second straight practice on Friday with a shoulder injury. McCarthy said he talked to Bennett about his shoulder after Tuesday's practice, and the medical staff is still gathering information on the injury.

On the defensive side, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has been out multiple weeks now with a back injury. McCarthy is hopeful he can start working his way back into practice this week, but his availability remains uncertain.

In general with the defense, McCarthy feels the unit has featured some standout performers through the first half of the season, but collectively the results aren't where they need to be. Players like Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez, among others, are putting together very strong seasons, but the next step McCarthy has emphasized in team meetings is for that to start translating to better play for the group as a whole.

"That's football. You can't do it by yourself," McCarthy said. "We have some outstanding individual performances going on over seven games, but our unit statistics, production and performance are not what it can be. It's not only what can you do for yourself, but what are you doing to make the guy next to you better?" will have more following practice and locker room interviews.

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