This April, it was a familiar refrain from draft analysts. "Once he gets on the field and recovers from a meniscus injury, you'll love Darius Slay." Detroit Lions' fans had heard that line before with prospects, so their skepticism was justified.
Following a great day in camp, however, it looks as if everyone was right about the play-making abilities of Slay, a second round selection which turned some heads given his injury. Yesterday, with two interceptions, the tall, recovering rookie from Mississippi State turned in one of the best mini-camp performances by a young cornerback in recent Lions' history. Ring those cowbells, indeed.
As Jim Schwartz commented to the media after practice, Schwartz is most impressed with his early ability to take in information and then translate that to success on the football field, which is a big first step for a rookie.
"He hasn't been on the practice field very much for us. He's just now sort of getting into it where he's going through team (drills) and all the other stuff we do. But he's picking it up quickly and athletically, he looks like he has some pretty good skills. You know, we need to see more of it."
More of it will need to be seen, indeed, because Slay, with speed to burn and a solid frame, could be the new prototypical NFL cornerback everybody's searching for to slow dynamic passing attacks. In addition to everyone else, the Lions have to fight off the likes of Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson twice during the NFC North slate, and have struggled to do so given their lack of speed, height and depth at the important defensive backfield positions.
Now, with a player like Slay in the fold who seemingly possess all those elements at once, the Lions might finally have freedom to develop their other corners and allow them to play different roles on the defense. No longer might Jonte Green have to play extended minutes, or even Bill Bentley. Those players could then focus on their individual roles, and find a way to excel in them instead of feeling like they have to play the role of superstar defender or shutdown corner from day one, which neither have been allowed to become just yet.
Having that will improve the play of the group, and it all hinges on the development and health of Slay. Should he play at an elite level from day one, everybody else will be allowed to focus on their own development and confidently play their own roles. The natural fit from day one has been Slay playing opposite Chris Houston, and thankfully, Slay has looked capable of doing that on the field.
Truthfully, it's early in camp for a young player, but considering the history of the Lions' backfield, it was a good initial head turner. If the Lions' secondary is playing at a high level collectively this fall, you'll likely have Slay's development to thank.
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