Glover Quin played on the varsity football team as a freshman at North Pike High School. To this day, he remembers what his coach told him before one particular matchup his freshman year playing against an opposing receiver who was a terrific player. It stuck with him all these years.
"I remember him saying something about the guy is going to be fast and am I going to be able to keep up with him and yada, yada, yada," Quin said. "I remember telling him vividly, 'He might be faster, but I'm smarter.'
"And that's the way I've always tried to play. They may be faster and they may be this, but if I can be smarter, then I can beat them to the spot because I know where he's going before he gets there."
Quin told the story after being asked about a recent comment made by Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, who said Quin had a very high football IQ.
"Yeah, he's a playmaker," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that, you always find him around the ball. He's either making a tackle in open field, he's making an interception for us cleanly in the air or tipped balls because he hustles all the time.
"Very, very, very smart, high football IQ and that kind of individual that has the physical talent along with the intellect, you got a pretty good package there."
It's a package that has gone regularly under-appreciated league-wide through the years, but that narrative is changing some after the start Quin's had to the 2017 season.
On Sunday Night Football, hours after Detroit beat Minnesota, a win sealed by Quin's forced fumble in the final minutes, former All-Pro safety Rodney Harrison called Quin the best free safety in the NFL.
Quin is currently the second highest graded safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He's recorded two interceptions and forced two fumbles, and quarterbacks have a 43.1 passer rating when throwing into his coverage area this season. He's been arguably the most important player on the Lions' fourth-ranked scoring defense.
Quin isn't the biggest safety in the NFL or the fastest, but he's shown time and time again that he might just be the smartest. Take his interception on Matt Ryan Week 3 for example. He knew exactly what the play was going to be pre-snap based on the formation and his film study. He told cornerback Darius Slay what the play was before the snap, and then he jumped Julio Jones' route and returned the pick back for a touchdown.
"That's just something I try to pride myself on," Quin said. "It's being smart, understanding the game, understanding situations, understanding players and understanding how they're trying to attack us.
"Understanding the scheme well enough to know when I have an opportunity to be more aggressive and try to make a play and when I don't have that opportunity in the scheme or in the play. Just trying to understand all those things."
Quin's seen a lot of football in nine seasons. He's played in a lot of games and he's played in a lot of plays. He's one of the most durable players in the league. Seeing that much football over the years has made the game slow down for Quin, and he's playing at an All-Pro level early on this season.
Moving back to outside linebacker in Detroit's 4-3 front has been a terrific move so far for Tahir Whitehead. He's had a nice start to his sixth NFL season. Through four games, he's been equally good against the run and the pass, which has been crucial for Detroit's defense, particularly the last two weeks as Detroit's played without starting MIKE linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Whitehead's run defense grade of 87.7 ranks third among all linebackers by Pro Football Focus, while his 10.1 run stop percentage ranks sixth among 4-3 outside linebackers.
After allowing a passer rating against of 124.9 last season playing the MIKE, that rating has dropped to just 65.2 this season playing the WILL. He has yet to allow a touchdown this season after allowing a league-high seven last year.
"Yeah, he's been highly productive," Caldwell said of Whitehead. "I think that you've probably noticed that no matter where you put him, he's been able to certainly make tackles and he does a real nice job for us. He's flexible obviously, he's played all three positions literally and a big part of what we do."
Whitehead's been very good, which is another reason why Detroit's defense as a whole has been good.
"I'm just trusting it," Whitehead said. "I see stuff and I'm like, 'OK, that looks like run, I'm firing and I'm going to go get the ball carrier.' I'm not being hesitant or questioning myself like I used to. I'm just going out there playing football and not thinking twice."
Veteran Darren Fells was signed by Detroit this offseason to bolster their blocking on the edge, but the plan was always to give Fells a chance to show what he could do in the passing game.
"When I first came in they told me that they felt with my size and my decent amount of athletic ability they could utilize that," Fells said this week. "They were surprised I wasn't doing more as a receiving tight end, especially being 6-7."
Fells showed last week he's not just a one-trick pony on the edge. He caught four first-down passes for 40 yards in last week's 14-7 win over Minnesota. He was targeted five times in all after being targeted just twice in his previous three games.
"I think that obviously he's a good athlete from his days playing basketball," Caldwell said. "He knows how to position his body and things of that nature. He's also a very good in-line blocker, but he has athleticism.
"He can catch the ball and tuck it away and get up the field. He's a load when he gets his shoulders square, so he's really coming along. When we first had an opportunity to look at him in the spring, we certainly felt that he would be a factor in the pass game and I think he's still developing in that area with us."
Last week, the Lions proved they're more than willing to treat Fells as more than just a blocker. Because of it, opponents now have to prepare for Fells in addition to the rest of the Lions receiving weapons. QUOTE OF THE DAY
Whitehead, when asked about Detroit's 11 takeaways in four games:
"It's a lot of fun as you can see. What, 11 turnovers in four games? It's a party at the ball. That's the way we see it."