The Jacksonville Jaguars are counting on star returner Jamal Agnew to be 100 percent after suffering a season-ending hip injury in 2021. But if he isn’t ready to go, the coaching staff will need a backup plan and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. could turn out to be a realistic option.
Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson told the local media Tuesday that the coaching staff is letting several players field punts and noted that’s an area the team needs to improve in. He says Agnew can handle return duties but if he’s not ready to go, they need to “have confidence in the next person“. Pederson was then asked what went into Shenault getting time as a returner.
"He came to us. Just a couple of weeks ago, I just walked up to him on the field and just asked him if he’s ever done it. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, I’ve done it before and this and that’, and I said, ‘Why don’t you just get back there?’, so we had a little conversation on the field and he’s been good, he’s, he’s embraced it. He’s such a big powerful guy that that would be an ideal spot for him, obviously, to help this football team as well."
Agnew was a special teams ace for the Jaguars last season, scoring two return touchdowns. Moreover, he made several big plays for the offense and even had a 66-yard touchdown run against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10. Agnew might not get plenty of touches on offense due to all the additions Jacksonville made in the offseason but he will give the return game a meaningful boost when he’s back.
The Jaguars need to have a solid alternative to Jamal Agnew
The Jags’ return game suffered a significant drop once Agnew was out for the year. That’s why it’s a good idea to think outside the box and give Shenault a chance to see what he can do. Here’s a look at Shenault warming up with the returners, via Jamal St. Cyr of News4JAX.
It’s uncertain what kind of role Viska will have on offense in 2022 in lieu of the arrival of Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. But the former Colorado Buff is taking a proactive approach and is looking for ways to contribute. If he bounces back from a somewhat disappointing 2021 season, he should get snaps. It would be a bonus if he can contribute on special teams.
Shenault is good at forcing missed tackles and he can run in the open field, so he may end up carving a niche as a returner. Of course, Agnew will get the nod if he’s ready to go but Shenault will try to beat Chris Claybrooks and Gregory Junior to handle duties if needed.
Competition gets the best out of everyone and that’s precisely the mindset Shenault has adopted. The Jaguars’ brass should feel encouraged and might have no choice but to make him an important piece of the offense and maybe special teams in 2022.