Surprise starter Abdul-Quddus big boost to Lion defense

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Most NFL players are confident they can earn a starting job regardless of the situation, and Isa Abdul-Quddus is no different.

But when the Lions signed safety James Ihedigbo just more than a month after claiming Abdul-Quddus off waivers, he knew his role would likely be that of a backup.

"I'm always of the mentality anything can happen, but my initial mindset was, I know I can play special teams and earn my way onto the field through that," Abdul-Quddus said. "Some things happen faster than others, so it's the next-man-up mentality."

What happened was Ihedigbo suffered a nerve injury in his neck in the second exhibition game, DeJon Gomes suffered a shoulder injury that led to an injury settlement and his release, and Don Carey has been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games.

So just three games into 2014, Abdul-Quddus has nearly as many starts with the Lions as he did with the New Orleans Saints — four — in his first three seasons.

"I feel I have a much better grasp of the game," he said, comparing his time in Detroit and New Orleans. "I understand the coverages. I understand what the offenses are going to run against me. It's getting a lot easier."

With 18 tackles and two passes defensed, Abdul-Quddus has played well enough to help the Lions defense rank No. 1 in yardage in the NFL to this point. He's also assisted a secondary that has already played six different guys at nickel cornerback.

Although Abdul-Quddus played mostly free safety in New Orleans, he's shown his versatility as a strong safety with the Lions.

In the first two games, Abdul-Quddus played a fair amount of snaps near the line of scrimmage and rushed the passer three times in each games, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the third game, the Lions played primarily with both safeties deep to prevent the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers from creating big plays.

Wherever he's playing, Abdul-Quddus said the tight coverage and run support from cornerbacks Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis has helped him.

"That's a safety's dream when you have aggressive, smart corners," he said.

During the offseason program, Abdul-Quddus said he and the other safeties all rotated to help improve chemistry among the group. In the safety meetings, everyone can freely share their ideas, from top starter Glover Quin to undrafted rookie Jerome Couplin.

Abdul-Quddus displayed all of this improvement in the exhibition games with 16 tackles and two interceptions, and with all the other injuries, he started the final two games in the preseason.

"He stepped right in and we didn't miss a beat, and that's really a testament to how he works and how he prepares and how the guys in the room got him prepared," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said two weeks ago.

No matter how well he's played, Abdul-Quddus still understands that Ihedigbo will likely reclaim his starting job when he's healthy.

"It's no problem at all," Abdul-Quddus said. "He's a great safety. I know he'll go in there and make plays, and I'll just make the most of my opportunities when I get out there."