Godwin Igwebuike’s fumbles ‘a concern’ for Detroit Lions, but Jack Fox’s holds are not

Detroit Free Press

With Jamaal Williams back and D’Andre Swift perhaps soon to follow, Godwin Igwebuike likely will be the odd man out of the Detroit Lions‘ running back rotation.

Igwebuike has fumbled three times, losing two of them, in the Lions’ past two games, but offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said he has not lost faith in Igwebuike’s ability to tote the ball.

“He’s going through a rough patch, and we’re going to figure out how mentally tough he is,” Lynn said Thursday. “My philosophy has always been, when a running back’s going through a rough patch like that, keep giving it to him. And that’s the best way to help him come through this. But we have all the confidence in the world in that young man, and I just believe he’s going to come out on the other side a better running back than he is right now.”

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The Lions’ primary kick returner most of the season, Igwebuike has seen only spot duty in the backfield since converting from safety to running back this summer.

He logged his first three NFL carries in the Lions’ blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 and has become progressively more involved in the offense since Thanksgiving.

With Swift nursing a sprained shoulder the past three weeks and Williams out two games due to COVID-19, Igwebuike started the Lions’ Week 14 loss to the Denver Broncos and played as the team’s primary third-down back against the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.

He lost a fumble early in the second half against the Broncos, was ruled out of bounds prior to fumbling a second time, and last week lost another fumble on his second and final carry against the Cardinals.

Craig Reynolds and Jermar Jefferson also are vying for carries at running back.

Lynn called Igwebuike’s fumbles “a concern” — Igwebuike also muffed a kickoff in the Lions’ Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers — but said the mistakes can be corrected with better technique.

“It’s fundamentals,” Lynn said. “It’s carrying the ball too low, so we’re teaching him to get it up higher and just do all those things. (Running backs coach) Duce (Staley) is doing a good job with that. And I believe he’ll come through it just fine.”

Hold on

Jack Fox was a Pro Bowl punter last season, but a so-so holder. This year, he’s doing both jobs at a high level.

Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp spent most of his weekly news conference Thursday detailing how Fox has improved as a holder, an area of the game overlooked by almost everyone but those involved.

“I was critical with Fox as a holder and thought that he could improve in that area, and I think he’s really come a long ways, which is a credit to him,” Fipp said. “Some guys, punters are worried about punting the ball and a lot of what they’re graded on publicly is how well they punt, and I think holding goes a little bit unnoticed.

“I think some of the low numbers on field goals is probably due to a lot of new punters are punting in this league, and there’s a lot of young punters and those guys don’t come in as the best holders, and he’s taken a lot of time and energy to make yourself a great player, which is really unselfish by him.”

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Fox held for kicks as a first-year player last season, when Matt Prater missed seven field goals and three extra points. Prater repeatedly downplayed any role the operation played in his struggles, but Fipp, in his first season with the Lions, has indicated he saw the operation as a contributing factor.

The Lions have used four different kickers in games this season, and those kickers are a combined 20 of 23 on field goals and 19 of 20 on extra points.

Fipp said Fox has spent “a lot of time” catching snaps from a machine and has been more detailed on his holds, from his catch of the snap, to his spot of the ball, to his placement of the laces, to the time it takes him to get the ball down.

From snap to kick, the operation is supposed to take about 1.3 seconds. Fipp said Fox is “more right, more often, faster” this year.

“When you get to this level, the standard is just a lot higher,” Fipp said. “A lot of these guys have done it for years, but the standard that they were doing it to was just a lower standard, and it wasn’t a big deal. It was acceptable, so if that’s OK then that’s good, and they don’t really think much about it. Well, now all of a sudden you come here and it’s a little bit more specific and it’s like, ‘OK, wait a minute.’ It’s like doing a different job now, and you’re starting over. So I would say, not only doing it but how you’re doing it is a big part of it, too.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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