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Matthew Stafford sharp for Lions; Jamal Agnew makes case on returns

DETROIT -- Jamal Agnew looked up to the Ford Field roof and saw the ball coming at him. He’d done this so many times before, but not in front of this many people. He’d returned punts throughout his college career, but this was the first time he was doing it inside the place he hopes to call home for at least the next four years.

And in the middle of the Detroit Lions' mock game to cap the first week of training camp, Agnew took off. He bolted left, found a hole and ran up the sideline. With Antwione Williams as a blocker, he cut back inside, made another defender miss and finished off an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“It felt great,” Agnew said. “I caught the ball and I just saw the wall setting up with the punt return team; did a really good job setting it up. Coach Joe [Marciano] was the mastermind behind it all. There’s a method behind his madness, so we follow the script, and it ended up paying off in the end.”

The “method” was simple: Find your blocks and use them. And a couple of caveats here, too, before the hype gets too big on Agnew: The mock game didn’t have tackling and the speed was a little slower than what will happen when the Lions face other teams, so it’s not clear what the return would have looked like in a real game. But he essentially went the whole way untouched, so it likely would have been a big return regardless. And remember, too, there’s a long way to go before this competition is decided.

That said, it might have given Agnew, a rookie fifth-round pick who estimated he played in front of 800 or 900 people during home games at San Diego, a lead in the punt return race over Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and TJ Jones.

Agnew’s big run was not only the play of the day during the mock game, but it was one of the more important bits the Lions might have been able to gather out of the first week of camp.

1. Left tackle -- still not great: Yes, this is turning into a harping-on point right now, but neither Cyrus Kouandjio nor Greg Robinson looked particularly good in the mock game protecting Matthew Stafford. It wasn’t just the potential starters who were beating both of them into the backfield, it was undrafted rookies such as Jeremiah Valoaga and Alex Barrett, too. There was a quick whistle, particularly on Stafford, but Detroit will need much-improved play there. Fast.

2. A name to watch -- Jordan Hill: Hill has gone somewhat unnoticed in the depth defensive tackle competition after A’Shawn Robinson, Haloti Ngata and Akeem Spence. But there’s a wide-open race for possibly two spots, and Hill’s No. 93 is one I continually have been writing in my notebook the past few days. He’s been getting some reps with the No. 1 defense and a lot with the No. 2 defense. It’s tough to tell with linemen until games start, but in a competition in which someone needs to distinguish himself, Hill’s play is starting to pick up. He had at least one pressure and one sack by my count during the mock game, where statistics were not officially kept.

3. Stafford looks sharp: He threw an interception on his first throw of the game -- a deep pass to Marvin Jones that Darius Slay tipped three times before coming down with it -- but after that he looked ready to go for the preseason, if not the regular season. By my count, Stafford completed 13 of 17 passes Saturday -- including an interception, a touchdown and one dropped pass from TJ Jones. In the battle behind Stafford, Jake Rudock took all of the No. 2 reps through three quarters, with Brad Kaaya coming in with third-stringers in the fourth quarter. I had Rudock at 19-of-26 passing with one touchdown, one interception and at least one of his passes dropped by tight end Michael Roberts.

4. Ameer Abdullah looks like the player the Lions hope he can be: Playing inside Ford Field for the first time since his season-ending foot injury in Week 2 last year, Abdullah seemed to cut and move just fine. That’s a big boost for a Lions offense that is hoping that the running back's injury was more of a fluke than anything else. Granted, there was no tackling involved Saturday, but his vision is still there, as is his speed and elusiveness. He should be good to go for fantasy owners and for the Lions when the regular season comes next month. The next step to know he’s really back is to see how he looks in his preseason game reps. Other than some nice cuts, his biggest highlight Saturday was making a diving catch on the sideline on a Stafford pass.

This and that

Ball security continues to be an issue for Roberts. He had another drop Saturday -- and lost another fumble, caused by Agnew. Considering this wasn’t a tackling day, that has to be something the Lions drill home on him heavily. … Eric Ebron, Ryan Spadola, Thurston Armbrister and Cornelius Washington did not take part in practice. ... Team owner Martha Ford watched at least part of Saturday’s mock game from the sidelines next to team president Rod Wood. As Ford was leaving, she stopped the golf cart she was riding in to walk over and chat with Stafford's wife, Kelly, who was sitting in the first row of the stands.