When the Detroit Lions first started pursuing James Ihedigbo after free agency opened a couple weeks ago, speculation suggested that they wanted him to be their strong safety. Under their new defensive coaching staff, the Lions are going back to strong and free designations at safety, and simply based on his strengths as a player, strong safety makes much more sense than free safety for Ihedigbo.
The Lions finally landed Ihedigbo on Monday night, and head coach Jim Caldwell confirmed on Tuesday that Ihedigbo is going to play strong safety. Glover Quin will be the Lions' free safety, although the two players could swap roles on defense in certain situations.
Simply based on last year's Pro Football Focus rankings, having Quin as the free safety and Ihedigbo as the strong safety is the right setup. There wasn't a big difference in the overall safety rankings -- Quin was 11th and Ihedigbo was 16th -- but there was a pretty significant gap between them in the rankings for coverage and run defense:
Coverage rankings: Quin 10th, Ihedigbo 73rd
Run defense rankings: Ihedigbo 2nd, Quin 58th
Considering Quin is much better against the pass than the run, Ihedigbo should be a nice complement at safety since he is very good against the run but not so good against the pass. Here's what Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had to say on Tuesday about Ihedigbo's skills:
More Harbaugh on James Ihedigbo: "You want tacklers. You want guys with range. You want guys with ball skills. James has all those things."— Mike O'Hara (@MikeOHaraNFL) March 25, 2014
Harbaugh also praised Ihedigbo's leadership and durability:
Ravens coach John Harbaugh says new Lions S James Ihedigbo has no injury issues, always able to practice. Not same for ex-Lion Louis Delmas.— Mike O'Hara (@MikeOHaraNFL) March 25, 2014
Considering the Lions had to carefully manage Louis Delmas' practice schedule just to keep him healthy enough to play in games, that's good to hear. Injuries can obviously happen to any player, but Ihedigbo and Quin should be able to build some on-field chemistry on a consistent basis during practice. Quin and Delmas really didn't have much of a chance to do that last season.