Why Detroit Lions are perfect fit for Mohamed Ibrahim, the record-setting ex-Minnesota RB

Detroit Free Press

It wasn’t long after Mohamed Ibrahim finished his pre-draft meeting with Detroit Lions running backs coach Scottie Montgomery that he picked up his phone and called his old position coach at Minnesota, Kenni Burns, now the head coach at Kent State.

Ibrahim and Montgomery were discussing pass game concepts at the NFL combine in March when Montgomery explained a new way to see a blitz pickup — one Ibrahim figured might cut his release time in half. Now, Ibrahim had to share his discovery.

“I kind of just called him and was like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about that?'” Ibrahim said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, that’s a great coaching point.’ Everybody coaches different, so I just took like little things that he said and was like, ‘Hey, that’s a good thing.'”

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Ibrahim discovered his appreciation for the finer points of football during the 2021 season, when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in Minnesota’s season opener and spent the year in a pseudo-assistant coach role.

The Big Ten’s leading rusher in 2020, Ibrahim spent his downtime during rehab in the film room, teaching Minnesota’s young running backs everything he knew about the position and devouring what he could from Burns and others on the Gophers coaching staff.

When it came time to pick an NFL team after he was passed over in last month’s draft, Ibrahim said he was drawn to the Lions in part by Montgomery and that first meeting they had in Indianapolis. He also got good feedback on the team from his former high school teammate and best friend, Lions defensive lineman Josh Paschal.

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“I had a few offers on the table and I felt like Detroit was the best fit for me,” said Ibrahim, who turned down offers from the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers and his hometown Baltimore Ravens, among others, as an undrafted free agent. “I loved the mentality that they have here. Tough, physical, kind of fits my style of play. So I felt like it was a perfect fit for me. Coach Montgomery, he really hones in on the details and that’s the part that I love. I love little stuff about football.”

Ibrahim’s love for the little things led to big production at Minnesota and should give him a chance to compete for a spot on the Lions’ 53-man roster this fall.

He had three 1,000-yard seasons with the Gophers, in 2018, 2020 and 2022, and left school in December as Minnesota’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,668), touchdowns (53) and 200-yard games (five). In Detroit, Ibrahim will compete with Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson and Greg Bell for one or two backup spots behind David Montgomery and first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs.

With Gibbs out of rookie minicamp practice Saturday and Sunday because of an ankle injury, Ibrahim took every snap at running back.

“Just doing the best at my opportunity, making the best out of it,” Ibrahim said after practice Saturday. “I don’t want to play the what-if, I should have done this better. … I want to make sure I come out here and leave a good taste in my mouth, knowing that I left it all out there.”

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Ibrahim said he is completely recovered from the Achilles injury that limited him to 30 carries in 2021, and he seemed to prove as much last season, running 320 times for a school-record 1,665 yards.

For that reason, Ibrahim said he was disappointed to go unselected in last month’s draft, when teams passed because of concerns about his injury history, heavy workload and hard-charging running style, but not deterred about his ability to contribute in the NFL.

“After I got hurt, it was a, ‘Do you want to leave after you got hurt or do you want to come back and prove yourself?’ And I felt like coming back and prove myself was the best fit,” Ibrahim said. “It showed myself that I could do it, it showed the NFL teams that I could do it and if nobody picked me up, that was OK. But I knew deep down in my heart that I did the right choice and I’m not going to pick the what-if game, nothing like that. I’m just going to do my job and make (the most of) the best situation.”

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

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