ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It started in Houston, shortly after James Ihedigbo signed with the Detroit Lions during free agency. His new safety-mate, Glover Quin, also lived in town during the offseason. So the idea was hatched.
Quin and Ihedigbo decided as a way to learn about each other and to start to build the chemistry needed between safeties before they arrived in Michigan, they would work out together. So each day this offseason, Quin and Ihedigbo showed up at Nine Innovations, a gym in Houston, to train together.
This lessened the getting-to-know-you period and also put both players in a habitat they were innately comfortable with: Where they actually live. Immediately, the players saw a significant bond. They both have children. They both have similar approaches to how they study the game.
And through that, the bond began to grow.
“It helps a lot because I get to see how he works, he gets to see how I work, we get to encourage each other, push each other,” Quin said. “We get to work together and you can build chemistry doing that just by learning how he works, him learning how I work. Learning what he likes to do, him learning what I like to do.
“Just little things like that. You can get a lot done just hanging out with each other every single day.”
Quin learned Ihedigbo likes to cook, although he said he hasn’t had one of Ihedigbo’s meals just yet. He also would ask the occasional football question, not about new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but about the scheme they were going to end up running.
Austin wasn’t calling the defensive schemes in Baltimore, but he was Ihedigbo’s position coach so he had more understanding of what Detroit might run than other players. And part of the reason Iheidgbo ended up with the Lions at all was the trust Austin has in him. Knowing him and how he would likely mesh with Quin was a big factor in Austin’s pursuit of Ihedigbo.
“You have two high-character veterans, so they know for us to play well, they have to play well,” Austin said. “They have to communicate and they have to be problem-solvers in the back. They’ve done that with the young guys and it helps.
“What that’ll do is cut down on big plays, cut down on breakout runs, all those different things.”
They are able to do that with the chemistry they’ve built -- and a similarity between them their teammates have seen. Last season, Quin and Louis Delmas were exceedingly different, both in personality and in style of play.
Delmas was the extremely aggressive playmaker who relied heavily on instinct and would be prone to sometimes pushing too hard. He was also loud and boisterous -- in many ways the emotional heart of the defense. Quin was the more studious player who offered a consistency and always appeared to be in the correct place at the correct time.
Ihedigbo, in many ways, is like Quin. Having two players who are similar could offer more flexibility -- something paramount at almost every position in Austin’s defense. Both Ihedigbo and Quin can play closer to the line of scrimmage if necessary, giving the Lions options both in disguising defensive backfield coverage, safety blitzes and run support.
“They work great because it’s a bond, more of a sense,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “They’ve been there just communicating before practice, working with each other. They are more likely to get a bond with each other outside of football.
“…You could tell when [Ihedigbo] came into meetings. He came in and said things like, you know, we’re young here and we’ve got to communicate [with] film study and everything.”
It’s an influence Austin and the safeties hope percolates throughout the defensive backfield. The Lions' secondary has been one of the bigger questions of the offseason and other than Ihedigbo, the Lions did not add much to bolster it.
So a lot should be expected of the safety pairing in both making plays and educating the rest of the secondary.
“We fit great,” Ihedigbo said. “We think alike. We can play off each other. Really have that good chemistry.”
Detroit is counting on it.