Allen Park — For Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs, having an NFL debut in the stadium where his older brother, Quentin Jammer, played for a long time was definitely cool.
With Jammer spending his 13-year career as a cornerback with the San Diego Chargers, Diggs has known players like quarterback Philip Rivers, punter Mike Scifres and safety Eric Weddle for a long time.
And despite being a sixth-round rookie at a position where the Lions have plenty of experience, Diggs actually played a significant role, appearing in 18 snaps on defense in addition to six plays on special teams.
“It’s definitely a blessing because a lot of guys don’t get this opportunity, and I know I’m one of the few,” he said.
While Diggs was impressive during the offseason, receiving snaps wasn’t just due to his talent. The Lions want him ready to play in case injuries arise, and they hope that proactive approach will help them prepare young players for larger roles in the future.
“What we did is we tried to target Quandre to make sure he got a series a half, so he can have some live game snaps and learn and get some experience that way,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.
The Lions like their top three cornerbacks — Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis on the outside with Josh Wilson playing in the slot. But they liked their group last year, too, with Bill Bentley opening the season in the slot and 2014 fourth-round pick Nevin Lawson behind him.
However, Bentley suffered a season-ending knee injury Week 1, Lawson went down with a season-ending foot injury in Week 2 and suddenly the Lions were left without an experienced inside cornerback. They signed Danny Gorrer, who’d worked with Austin in Baltimore, and safeties Don Carey and Isa Abdul-Quddus played more on defense. But Cassius Vaughn had to play inside at times despite his previous NFL experience being outside.
“We have to get these guys, somehow, some game experience, so that if something would happen … we’re not putting a guy in that hasn’t seen any game snaps,” Austin said.
The Lions used a similar thought process last season as they dealt with injuries at right tackle. Following injuries to LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard early in the season, veteran Garrett Reynolds started a handful of games, but undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas would share time with him. By the end of the year when Waddle went down again, Lucas was ready to be the starter and started in Week 1 this season.
Kyle Van Noy, a second-round pick last year, also played a bit on defense in the second half of the season despite Ashlee Palmer being the starting strong-side linebacker.
“I think oftentimes what you find is that in the long run it does indeed help you because it certainly buoys your confidence in him,” coach Jim Caldwell said of giving young players early game experience. “If he gets in there and does well or poorly, it gives him sort of a standard that is expected of him, so he has a chance to get in there and actually test his craft.”
The plan was for Diggs to play a couple of series, and while many of those 18 plays were in the red zone, Austin said that was happenstance. Diggs, whose two tackles came on back-to-back fourth-quarter plays in the red zone, said he didn’t mind the extra pressure, either.
“I’m a chill guy,” he said. “I’m relaxed. I’m always myself, not too much really going through my mind (besides) just go out and play my technique, play my coverage and do what I’m supposed to do.”
Diggs took that approach as soon as he arrived in Detroit, and Austin said he was more solid and consistent in training camp than Lawson, who was inactive in Week 1. Of course, if injuries pop up, Lawson surely will have his chance this year, too.
And Diggs was glad to see the coaches trusted him in his first game, one that ended up being at Qualcomm Stadium where his brother played so long.
“I just want to take advantage of the opportunities I have to, first of all, be able to go out to practice and take advantage of the practice reps for them to believe in me to get in the game,” he said. “I’m thankful for those guys trusting and believing in me.”
Lions at Vikings
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Records: Lions 0-1, Vikings 0-1
Line: Vikings by 2
Series: Vikings lead 69-36-2