COORDINATOR CUT-UP: Cunningham confident Slay will continue to benefit from experience

Posted Sep 10, 2013

Tim Twentyman sits down with Cunningham to discuss the play of CB Darius Slay in the Lions' 34-24 season-opening win over Minnesota.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)
Jim Schwartz said Monday that his decision to play veteran Rashean Mathis at the end of Sunday’s, 34-24, victory over the Vikings, instead of staying with starter Darius Slay, was like a baseball manager going to the bullpen at the end of a game.

The Vikings were beginning to pick on Slay a little bit and Schwartz wanted Mathis’ experience in the game at the end.

Though Slay doesn't have that experience now, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham told me Tuesday that he has all the confidence he will pick things up.

"I think he’s like any rookie," Cunningham said. "As a matter of fact, he’s a very young one because he came out after a year at the four-year school (Mississippi State) he ended up going to. That worried me, initially, and I brought that up in the draft. But when I saw him athletically, it didn’t worry me anymore.

"After (Sunday's) game, it still doesn’t worry me. That’s experience. He needs to play. He missed some time in the spring with that MCL he had and he missed a little bit of time in the preseason. The more he practices and the more he plays the better he’s going to get."

The Lions loved Slay’s size (6-0, 192) and speed (4.34) coming out of college, along with his man-to-man cover skills. He was beat a couple times Sunday, but he also made a nice play along the sideline and it was his defense on Jerome Simpson that led to the DeAndre Levy Interception.

"There’s something he has that no coach can improve upon, which is great athletic skills," Cunningham said. "He’s got the speed to go with it, he’s tough, and he’s going through the learning process."

Cunningham also touched on a couple of other defensive trends from Sunday:

On the overall defensive performance: "The whole defense stepped up. They knew we could do that. You could feel it upstairs watching them. The energy they brought. I thought Jim (Schwartz) did an exceptional job the night before at the team meeting. He had a clip of a movie (Saving Private Ryan). I’d shown that as a head coach in 1999. The points he made in the movie are that things aren’t going to go right, we’re going to have bad things happen to us, and we’re going to have to use all of our resources to win and play on defense. We just didn’t know it was going to be the first play on defense. It was one of the better meetings I’ve been a part of in all my years and the impressive part is the players took hold of it."

On the play of linebackers: "They all made big plays; tackles for loss, interceptions. Two interceptions for linebackers, that’s unheard of in the first game. I thought DeAndre Levy probably played the best of the three, but the other two (Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer) weren’t too far behind. I was really proud of all three of them."

On the play of new starting linebacker Ashlee Palmer: "Ashlee Palmer stepped in and he’s been doing a good job. He did a good job last year. We won games when he had played last year. So our confidence in him has grown over the last year and a half or so and he went out and handled himself well."

On the 78-yard Adrian Peterson TD run: "I talked about (the play) earlier in the week to the coaches. They were coming back to it. They ran it two years ago against us and we had a couple problems with it and we worked it pretty hard in practice. I saw it coming upstairs and I said, 'Oh boy.’ Slay had a chance and (Louis) Delmas had a chance and both missed him. We corrected everything right after that and he couldn’t get to the line of scrimmage."