Nov 24, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay (30) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Going throwback is something everyone strives to do with regard to fashion lately, but credit Detroit Lions’ cornerback Darius Slay for applying the term to his game, and finding some much-needed confidence in the process as a result.
As Kyle Meinke of MLive wrote in February, Slay was set to work with Rod Woodson, former cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Hall of Fame member. When he played with the Steelers from 1987-1996 and later with the Baltimore Ravens, he garnered a reputation as one of the most feared defensive backs in the league with 71 career interceptions and 12 touchdowns.
Now, Woodson has taken a particular interest in Slay, whom he admitted he considered to be just like a member of his own family. During the winter, Woodson tutored Slay on the finer points of being a cornerback in the league in California, and sees a lot that he likes in the second year man.
"“His upside is tremendous,” Woodson told Meinke back in February. “He has a quick burst, he’s physical, he can run with any receiver in the NFL. He’s physical enough to take anybody, and his contact-courage is up to par. Now the question is can he become one of the top-notch corners? I think he can be. Just give it some time.”"
Flash forward four months. Since the winter, Slay did plenty of work with Woodson personally, and the results have shown. In the first round of recent OTA’s, Slay appeared to be one of the best players on the field according to Meinke, who noted his solid coverage across the board on anyone not named the superhuman Calvin Johnson, and it was likely thanks in part to one piece of Woodson’s offseason tutelage.
"“Woodson noticed on film that Slay developed a habit of looking too much at the quarterback as the ball was thrown. That sometimes caused him to be a step slow despite that 4.36 speed. ‘So he said to play the man more,’ Slay said.”"
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The help from Woodson, and the confidence gained as a result is huge for Slay and the Lions. Plenty have been ringing their hands about Detroit not adding a corner early in the draft, but most forget the Lions did add one in 2013. Few defensive backs make the jump to the NFL seamlessly, and according to Woodson, Slay already has all the tools to be great in time. It seems as if it’s just a matter of fine tuning his skills, finding better instincts and gaining confidence.
If the first look at Slay on the field in May is any indication, the Lions might be able to get bigger that expected results from a player most figured to provide modest returns again. For years, Woodson’s tough press, man-to-man defense was amongst the best in the league at his position, and with Slay’s body, if Woodson was able to turn him into a similar player instinctually, the sky could be the limit.
For Slay, going throwback in 2014 could be the key both to finding the confidence needed to survive the NFL and providing the Lions with the dominating contributor they’ve long hoped to find for the secondary.