After the Lions let Jed Collins leave in free agency this offseason, Emil Igwenagu was the only fullback on the roster.
A handful of weeks later, the Lions drafted Michael Burton in the fifth-round, which meant Igwenagu’s best chance to make the 53-man roster likely was to convince the team to carry two fullbacks.
“It’s not like I thought I was going to be the only fullback in here,” Igwenagu said with a smile this week. “Obviously, there’s going to be competition. That pushes me; I’m sure that pushes (Burton).”
So far this summer, Igwenagu has done enough to give the coaches and personnel staff a few reasons to consider the possibility of keeping him along with the rookie.
“Very, very close and heated battle, which has been good for us,” coach Jim Caldwell said of the fullback competition. “I think they both have worked extremely hard at it and they both certainly are the kind of guys you’re looking that can step up in there and take on a linebacker.”
The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Igwenagu is taller and rangier than the typical fullback — Burton is 6-foot and 245 pounds. But he’s been playing the position for most of his football career, so he understands the importance of keeping his pads low to maintain leverage while he blocks.
The extra length, though, helps Igwenagu on special teams, which is the unit he’ll have to make a mark to make the team.
After going undrafted out of UMass, Igwenagu signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. He played in three games as a rookie, but spent most of his first two years on the Eagles’ practice squad.
Philadelphia waived him after the third exhibition game in 2014, and the Lions claimed him before stashing him on the practice squad all of last season. Although Burton has been more impressive as a blocker so far, Igwenagu spent all of last year learning the Lions offense, which was an extremely valuable experience.
The Lions have also used Igwenagu briefly as a tight end and H-back during practices this summer, and he knows that versatility could be his ticket to the active roster, though he doesn’t think the coaches moving him around says much about where he stands.
“I just go out and do what’s on the call sheet,” he said. “I really don’t read into any of that because at the end of the day, they’re just evaluating and trying to choose the best squad to make it all the way.”