The Detroit Lions headed into the offseason with a perceived need to improve the defensive backfield.
Despite this expectation, and the team’s bottom 10 pass defense ranking in 2013, the Lions added no significant players to cornerback while cutting Chris Houston and swapping Louis Delmas for James Ihedigbo at safety.
Most who expected the team to address the secondary were particularly surprised that the team was so quiet at cornerback.
Perhaps the reason the Lions felt they could pull the trigger on adding offensive pieces such as pass catchers Golden Tate and Eric Ebron rather than invest in defensive backs is because of second-year pro Darius Slay.
Slay, a second-round draft choice in 2013, seems to have made significant strides since his up-and-down rookie campaign. He’s looking confident in camp after an offseason of work.
“I’m very confident. I trust the scheme, trust the teammates behind me. I’m just out there playing ball, having fun,” said Slay.
Among other things, Slay’s confidence is a result of offseason training with hall-of-fame cornerback Rod Woodson.
“My experience and then when I went up to Rod,” said Slay. “He taught me a lot of stuff and made the game easier for me. I’m using it out here and it works.”
Slay had a tough start to his professional career. He earned a starting job in training camp but was benched early and eventually was replaced in the starting lineup. He kept a positive attitude when talking to the media but has since admitted it was difficult to stay confident.
He spent an offseason preparing for his sophomore year in an effort to avoid the inconsistencies from 2013.
“I’m always focused on the technique because I want to get better at everything I do,” he said. “The only thing it was, was just my confidence last year. I lost it, got it back, lost it, got it back. Now, you know, I’m just full of confidence and ready to play ball.”
When watching Slay practice this year, there’s a noticeable difference – the most of which is his physicality. He has been able to make some plays by being aggressive and physical with his assignment, he also may have caused some pass interference flags in real game situations.
The 23-year-old doesn’t seemed too concerned about drawing penalties.
“If you play aggressive, you want stay aggressive because if you get soft you’re going to give up plays,” he said. “I’d rather give up 10 yards than 100. So, I’m out there just grinding and if they call the PI, we’re going to play the next down.”
Slay, who also commonly studies film of Cleveland Browns corner Joe Haden, seems likely to open the season as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. His ability to take a significant step forward will be key to the secondary’s success.
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