Lions' Austin says Ihedigbo is still starter

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
James Ihedigbo

Allen Park — James Ihedigbo played just three defensive snaps last week, but Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the veteran remains the team's starting strong safety.

How much he will play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, though, depends on which packages the Lions run, Austin said.

On both sides of the ball, Lions coaches have pointed to their varied packages for why certain players have been benched this season. Ihedigbo is the latest player who surprisingly had a limited role, but he didn't sound too upset about it, though he obviously wants to play more.

"Honestly, this is exactly the way I took it, and I was like, 'Your pride comes before the fall,'" Ihedigbo said Wednesday. "If you put yourself and say, 'Oh, this should've been this way; blah, blah, blah.' That's not what it's about. It's about winning."

And with Isa Abdul-Quddus playing 84 of the 87 snaps against the Green Bay Packers, the Lions won for just the second time this season.

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Austin explained that Abdul-Quddus' speed made him a better option against the Packers because of how frequently they use three wide receivers and try to get their playmakers the ball in the open field. The Lions could consider the same approach Sunday against a Raiders team that features two big-play receiving threats, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

While Abdul-Quddus is a faster option, Ihedigbo is a hard-hitter with more experience and a nose for the ball, with eight forced fumbles the past three seasons.

The coaches informed Ihedigbo early last week that he wouldn't be playing as much as usual. For most of his two seasons with the Lions, Ihedigbo has played every snap when healthy, but with a couple injuries and some struggles this year, Abdul-Quddus has played more.

"Do I look like I lost a step? I feel great," Ihedigbo said. "I'm out there flying around. I feel awesome. If anything, I think it benefits me more because it could probably prolong me a little bit."

As the backup safety, Ihedigbo also played special teams for the first time since joining the Lions in 2014. And even though he'd rather be playing, Ihedigbo said Abdul-Quddus played "lights out" as he tied for the team lead with eight tackles in Green Bay.

"You can't handle this thing pridefully," Ihedigbo said. "You can't. You can't do it. Because then if you handle it pride first, then when you're out there, you're not going to play your best; you're worried about too many different things.

"And it comes down to just doing your job and doing it to the best of your ability every opportunity you get and to go out there and make things happen."