Allen Park — Through 11 games, Detroit Lions running back Godwin Igwebuike has played just 20 offensive snaps. But his ability to maximize those opportunities, along with D’Andre Swift being sidelined by a shoulder injury, has the converted defensive back in line for his biggest role of the season Sunday against Minnesota.
A top special teams contributor who has served as Detroit’s kickoff returner much of the year, Igwebuike has netted 10 touches the past three games, turning those into 121 yards from scrimmage. Impressively, his past three carries have gone for 14, 42 and 11 yards.
“I think preparation goes a long way for any position,” Igwebuike said. “Being a backup, you’re not getting all the reps all the time, but you’re still asked to be ready. You’re on a shorter leash. But you’re still asked to make those same plays consistently. My process has just been focusing on my product. Someone said when you’re focusing on your product, the success will come, it’ll be a byproduct of your preparation.”
The fact that Igwebuike is contributing at all, particularly at running back, is remarkable. Entering his fourth NFL season as a safety, the same position he played at Northwestern, Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was caught off guard by Igwebuike’s athleticism running a simple special teams drill during the early stages of the offseason program.
“The young man made a move and I just said, ‘That’s not normal for a DB,'”
Lynn, a former running back, shared what he saw with coach Dan Campbell, and within a matter of days, a position change was in progress.
“The next day, Campbell was like ‘Oh, we might give you some runs in fall camp,'” Igwebuike said. “But I’m just like, ‘Yeah, funny coach, whatever.’ Come summertime, I get that call and I’m like ‘Yo, OK. This is for real, for real?’
“Hats off to them. I think I could have been on 31 other teams and been in the same drill and never had the opportunity to actually showcase myself at running back. I have so much respect for them, giving me this chance.”
Carving out a role
Earlier this week, the Lions activated rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu from injured reserve. Campbell has already said he won’t be reinserted into the starting lineup, where undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs has established himself as a reliable option in recent weeks, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has plans to get the team’s third-round pick back into the mix.
“Iffy’s (Melifonwu) played nickel for us, he’s played outside corner for us, he’s played dime for us,” Glenn said. “That’s some versatility there. We’re going to use that player as a matchup piece. Can’t say exactly where we’re going to use him at but we’re going to use him.
“That’s the luxury of having a player like that,” Glenn continued. “Yes, Jerry has done a really good job at playing outside corner, but no one has anything locked up. You earn your job every week. That’s just what it is. And you see that from different guys playing. We’ve had a lot of different guys go play and that’s how this game should be. I mean, you earn your keep during the week. If you earn it, you get a chance to play.”
The Lions drafted Melifonwu out of Syracuse with the No. 101 overall selection. He opened the season as a top backup, but was quickly pressed into a starting job after Jeff Okudah suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the opener.
Melifonwu got the start in Week 2 against Green Bay before suffering a thigh injury in the second half of the contest that sidelined him the past nine games.
In the immediate aftermath of this week’s Oxford school shooting, the Lions are still trying to navigate how to honor and aid that community. This week, that will be shown through a symbolic display of singularity as players and members of the coaching staff wear custom t-shirts before the game, a patch on each helmet, and observe a moment of silence before Sunday’s game with the Vikings.
“Those guys are on our minds,” Campbell said. “We want to represent them on Sunday. I know there will be a group of those students and kids and people that have been affected that will be watching this game. Right now, that’s the best way to help them.”