Darius Slay putting himself through "hands school"

Posted Jun 2, 2016

In order to up his interception numbers this year, Darius Slay is putting himself through "hands school."

Darius Slay is back in school for the Lions’ 10 OTA practices this offseason. The team's top cornerback refers to it as "hands school."

Slay said after Thursday’s open OTA practice in Allen Park that his goal is to catch 1,000 footballs before, after and during down time at OTA practice to help improve his hands. He said veteran safety Glover Quin gave him the idea.

"Listen to the old guy," Slay said. "He's been here. He has what 15 picks in three years? Obviously, it works, so I'm going to use it too."

Before Thursday’s practice, Slay and fellow cornerback Nevin Lawson took turns catching passes from the jugs machine. After practice, he and a group of cornerbacks worked on catching passes from various angles while on the ground.

“Catching nothing but balls every time I’m on break," said Slay. "Just catching. Getting my hands stronger.”

Slay, who is entering his fourth season with the Lions, is considered one of the best young cover cornerbacks in the league. He even received the second highest grade at the position from Pro Football Focus last season.

But the interceptions and game-changing plays are missing from his repetoire. Slay has just four interceptions in 36 career starts.

“I got to get my hands on the ball, man,” he said. “I get my fingertips on it slapping it down and stuff but I need to grip it so I can have some pick sixes.”

Slay defended 30 passes the last two seasons, but just four of those have become turnovers for the Lions. He joked after practice that the NFL needs to put the strip on the end of the ball like they do in college so he can see it better and pick it off more like he did at Mississippi State. Slay had five interceptions his last season at MSU in 2012.

“You want him to be able to intercept the football,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after chuckling that Slay refers to his 1,000-catch goal this offseason as hands school. “Those plays that he’s really close, make those turnovers because he can do that. He’s got the ability to cover people so tight that now if he starts taking the ball away guys won’t even throw at him.”

Of course that’s the ultimate goal for Slay. Shutdown status.

Give Slay credit for identifying a weakness in his game and taking the advice of a veteran player like Quin, who said earlier in the offseason that all Slay needed to do to be considered among the elite cornerbacks in this league was to work on getting more picks.

Head coach Jim Caldwell is impressed with the way Slay has made a concerted effort this offseason to improve that part of his game.

“I think what you find about guys like him, who have a lot of ability and talent, they start to work on what they consider their weaknesses and try to hone in on those,” Caldwell said.

“He’s trying to isolate some things and trying to do them better. There’s always room for improvement in our game. If you’re not getting better your opponents certainly are.”