Allen Park — Since the Lions lost Josh Wilson to a season-ending knee injury in Week 10, rookie Quandre Diggs has made plays from the nickel cornerback position.
Against the Rams last weekend, Diggs, a sixth-round pick, had a thunderous hit on receiver Kenny Britt to break up a pass in the first quarter. The next drive, Diggs diagnosed a screen to tackle running back Tre Mason for a 3-yard loss.
“That screen that he had a tackle for loss, you can feel that,” said Wilson, a nine-year veteran. “There’s nothing in a textbook that says drop your guy and go get it. You’ve got to be able to get a sense that something’s different right now and be able to make a play, and he’s been able to do that.”
As impressive as those two plays — and particularly the screen stuff — were, Lions safety Glover Quin said Diggs was just doing his job. The defense was playing zone both times, with Diggs taking a calculated risk to make the plays.
But those plays, along with the others Diggs has made the past four games, were a product of listening to coaches and following directions. Considering Diggs is a cornerback, a position players often struggle as rookies, Quin said Diggs’ listening skills have helped him avoid some of the learning curve players deal with.
“He listens, he asks questions and he takes it to the field,” Quin said. “I think any time you can just be focused on doing your job and understanding how your job works in the grand scheme of things, I think you can be fine as a (rookie) corner.”
On that screen, Quin said Diggs “did exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
“I’m a guy with pretty good instincts, so I saw it coming,” Diggs said. “We had been alerted and it came and I was able to make a play. It’s just small stuff, and if you do your job, good things like that happen.
Diggs said being in daily meetings with several established veterans — like Wilson and Rashean Mathis — has helped him adjust to the NFL quickly.
He also said part of his motivation for games is an aspiration to earn the respect of his teammates, and talking with those guys — Mathis is in his 13th season — has buoyed his confidence.
“Confidence is a hell of a thing,” Diggs said. “Once you get the confidence and get your swagger going, the sky’s the limit.”
Lions coaches made a concerted effort to get Diggs some snaps early this season, letting him rotate as the backup nickel behind Wilson. Diggs played more snaps than Wilson against the Broncos in Week 3, when he recovered a fumble. When Wilson missed Week 7 with a brain injury, Diggs played 42 snaps as the primary slot cornerback and had four tackles.
And since Wilson has been out, Diggs has shown a surprising mastery of the position for a rookie. Against the Raiders in Week 11, he had five tackles, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
Diggs had two tackles against the Eagles in Week 12, but contributed three tackles, one for loss and a pass defensed in Week 13 against the Packers.
In addition to reading some plays right, Diggs also has shown a knack for big hits, which was the case when he played at Texas.
“One, you’ve got to be aggressive,” Wilson said about playing nickel. “Two, you’ve got to be able to make plays when they present themselves, and he’s been able to do that and not be afraid to make a play.”
In addition to making key plays, Diggs also has been helping the defense be in the right position as he makes several calls in games. He’s just a rookie, but playing alongside young cornerbacks like Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson, Diggs is often the one making adjustments.
With Quin often playing farther back in the nickel package, Diggs also has to talk to linebackers and defensive linemen, and Quin said the rookie has earned his trust with his preparation and play.
“Those guys definitely know that I know what I’m doing now,” Diggs said. “They trust me to be out there. G.Q. lets me make my calls, and we just go with the flow.”