Lions expecting a lot from CB Darius Slay in 2014

Posted Mar 30, 2014

Cornerback Darius Slay was inconsistent as a rookie, but Lions are expecting big-time improvement in 2014

ORLANDODarius Slay found out rather quickly how difficult it is to make the jump from the college game to the NFL level, especially when he was only a one-year starter at Mississippi State before making the leap.

A second-round pick by the Lions last year, Slay’s rookie campaign can best be summed up as inconsistent. He won a starting role out of camp, was replaced by veteran Rashean Mathis, won the job back and then finished the 2013 season on a good trend, especially vs. Minnesota Week 17.

“He needs to improve in a lot of areas, but a lot of it is growing pains,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said of Slay in his introductory press conference. "I’ll use an example of a guy I just coached, Jimmy Smith, who we (Baltimore) drafted in the first round. Jimmy didn’t become a full-time player until this year. He was a lot like Darius. He kind of flashed and has some tremendous talent. He would flash, but he didn’t quite play as consistently as you’d like. But then he finally (did); like a lot of them, sometimes it just clicks.

“It takes reps, it takes time and when it does (click), he starts improving in certain areas and everything else picks up.”

The Lions are hoping that’s the case with Slay. The team didn’t make any marquee moves at cornerback in free agency, in part, because they’re expecting a lot from Slay in 2014.

Slay's development was slowed some last year after suffering a torn ligament in his knee following a strong performance on Thanksgiving against the Packers. The encouraging thing for Lions coaches and front office personnel, however, is that he came back strong off the injury and continued to play well.

“He has a lot of work to do,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL Annual Meetings. “I think he’s up to the challenge. He finished up strong for us the last half of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing him this season.”

The Lions are expected to be more aggressive under Austin, and that should suit Slay’s game much better. He’s a better on-the-line-of-scrimmage, man-to-man cornerback than he is in space, and he’ll play more that way than he did as a rookie.

The Lions could find some help at the position in the draft, but the expectation is for Slay to come in ready to start and play well.