Lions’ Quin excels as safety and as teacher

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — In his ninth season, at 31 years old, Glover Quin is playing the best football of his career.

That’s saying something for a guy who earned All-Pro honors three years ago after leading the NFL with seven interceptions, but the Lions safety just keeps getting better and better.

Quin has been the omnipresent force leading the Lions’ opportunistic defense. Through four games, he’s on pace to set his career-high in tackles, while generating three turnovers and forcing a second fumble on which the opponent recovered.

Just last Sunday, it was Quin’s quick thinking that saved the day. With the Minnesota Vikings looking to drive for a tying score in the closing minutes, he punched the ball free from the grasp of receiver Adam Thielen in the closing minutes to preserve Detroit’s victory.

“Yeah, he’s a playmaker,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a guy that, you always find him around the ball. He’s either making a tackle in open field, he’s making an interception for us cleanly in the air or tipped balls because he hustles all the time.

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“Very, very, very smart, high football I.Q. and that kind of individual that has the physical talent along with the intellect, you got a pretty good package there.”

Relatively speaking, Quin is an elite athlete, but by the NFL’s standards, he has average physical gifts. He’s not going to blow anyone away with his power or his speed, but there he is, play after play, in position to get things done.

Quin is so driven to maximize his talent he feels he could just as easily have become a professional baseball or basketball player, had he chosen to dedicate his life to those sports instead of football.

It’s his intelligence, preparation and that intrinsic motivation that separates Quin from his peers. They are traits that have been cultivated since his earliest days of high school football. On Wednesday, he shared a story from when he was a freshman, playing varsity football, and his coach questioned his ability to cover the opponent’s speedy star receiver.

“I remember telling him vividly, ‘He might be faster, but I’m smarter,’ ” Quin said. “That’s the way I’ve always tried to play. They may be faster, they may be this, but if I can be smarter, then I can beat him to his spot because I know where he’s going before he’s getting there.”

That’s exactly what happened two weeks ago, when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the reigning MVP, looked to connect with Julio Jones, one of the NFL’s premier receivers. As the pass left Ryan’s hand, Quin was already charging hard to beat Jones to the spot. The savvy safety stepped in front of the receiver and snagged the interception, never breaking stride all the way to the end zone.

First one on the practice field, first one to the ball.

“That’s something I pride myself on,” Quin said, “being smart, understanding the game, understanding the situations, understanding players, understanding how they’re trying to attack us, understanding the scheme well enough to know when I have an opportunity to be more aggressive making a play and when I don’t have an opportunity in the scheme or on the play.”

Quin will turn 32 in January. He signed a two-year extension during training camp, so if all goes well, he’ll be with the Lions through his 34th birthday. At this rate, he’s looking like a guy who could play several more years, if he wanted to.

But he doesn’t want to. Quin didn’t name a year, but he clearly can see a finish line. He has no intention of trying to stick around the NFL until he’s 40. He has spent enough time away from his family — his wife and three young children who still call Houston home — that he doesn’t want to miss too much more.

But for now, Quin continues to thrive and continues to get better. He’s energized by the young players in Detroit’s locker room, who push him to improve and give him added purpose.

After a practice late in training camp, several of those young defensive backs gathered around Quin’s locker, and like a professor, he quizzed them on their playbooks and offered observations and suggestions only experience could provide.

“I think the thing that drives me the most is just being a leader for our young guys,” Quin said. “Just showing our young guys what it looks like from a preparation standpoint, a practice standpoint, from a mental standpoint, physical standpoint, availability standpoint.

“I’m just trying to lead them in a way that they say, ‘Hey, we had a good teacher.’ ”

This Sunday Quin will start his 121st consecutive game, the longest active streak at his position and seventh-longest overall. He’s been everything the Lions could have hoped for and more when they signed him as a free agent in 2013.

And, as strange as it sounds, his best might be yet to come.