JACKSONVILLE – This is where he wants to be, and Jamal Agnew couldn't be happier.
He's participating in Jaguars 2022 minicamp at TIAA Bank Field this week – and considering where he was late last season, that's a good place for the veteran wide receiver/returner.
"I'm pretty much right on track, way ahead of time," he said.
Agnew, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, was perhaps the team's biggest big-play threat in 2021. He turned in the three longest plays of the season before sustaining a hip injury that ended his season in a November loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
He began practicing in the Jaguars' non-padded practices last week, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence said Agnew has looked "great" since returning.
"It's good to have him back out," Lawrence said last week. "He's been kind of working his way up, taking it slow. There's no reason to rush it right now. I know kind of what he can do."
What Agnew did in 2021 was become more than the returner the Jaguars originally signed. In addition to a 109-yard missed field goal return against the Arizona Cardinals and a 101-yard kickoff return against the Denver Broncos – both for touchdowns – he contributed significantly on offense. His 66-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts was the team's longest running play of the season and he also caught 24 passes for 229 yards in just his second full season as a receiver.
"He gave us a lot of explosive plays last year, gave us a burst," Lawrence said. "He was great. He made a lot more plays on offense than we all probably would've seen going into the season just because he's mostly a special teams guy. But having that extra guy that you can plug in at receiver, in the slot, whatever you need for speed, it just helps a lot. It gives you an extra element."
Agnew said he is progressing weekly in his return with no setbacks. And while a hip injury is not as common in the NFL as, say, a knee or ankle injury, Agnew said he felt no unusual anxiety over the injury or his return.
"I wasn't too nervous," Agnew said. "I feel like God always has a plan and things happen for a reason. It was just a matter or staying positive. No one wants to be out for the season. Obviously you're going to have bad thoughts, negative thoughts, but it was just a matter of staying positive and drowning those negative thoughts out with positivity."
The Jaguars appear to only have positive thoughts about Agnew, who returned 22 punts for a 6.7-yard average last season and 22 kickoffs for a 23.9-yard average. Jaguars special teams coordinator Heath Farwell, hired by Head Coach Doug Pederson in February, called the sixth-year veteran "a guy I have watched for several years."
"I have tried to get him on all the teams I have been on," Farwell said. "He is a super talented guy. I am excited to have him. He is another reason why I am here. You have a returner like that, that is that talented and that good – we are excited to have him out there for sure. I have been kind of taking him slow, pulling him back as much as I can as far as with the training staff. He wants to go every time. It's like, 'Hey buddy, relax. We got time. Let's just make sure he is prime and ready Week 1.'''
That's Agnew's objective, too. He said he feels stronger now than before his injury, stronger than at any time in his career. He said he doesn't know what role he will play in 2021, or if he will get the same opportunity in the offense as last season. He does know he likes how he is feeling as the offseason ends, and that he is anticipating a strong 2022 whatever his role.
"I'm a glass-half full person," Agnew said. "However cliché that is, it's true. You always have to find the positive about something. Out of my injury, the positive is I feel I have a lot to get better at. My body needed to get stronger, and it always could have been worse.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. I obviously want to make plays. I feel like I don't have a designed role. We have a lot of playmakers. They're trying to figure out who does what best, who excels in different spots. I don't expect a defined role.
"I just want to be put in an opportunity to make plays. Whatever that is for the team, I'll do that."