Like a lot of rookies who come into this league, Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay saw his fair share of ups and downs in year one.
The second-round pick (No. 36 overall) began the season as a starter opposite
Slay got another chance to start on Thanksgiving vs. Green Bay, when Houston missed the game due to injury, and he played his best game as a professional in posting two tackles and defending three passes in the Lions' 40-10 rout.
It was the kind of performance a young player like Slay builds upon and gains confidence by.
Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in practice a few days later and didn't play again until Week 17 in Minnesota.
Now getting ready to enter year two, expectations are high for Slay to take a giant step forward in his development and play a lot more like he did on Thanksgiving.
"I think we have some good young pieces," Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "You know, as we watched the tape, one of the young guys, (Darius) Slay, I looked at him and you go, 'Boy, he had his ups and downs.'
"You know, he had some things, he had some growing pains. There were some times he didn't look very good and there were some times he looked outstanding.
"Our goal is to try to get him to be consistent, to be a consistent player. That way, that talent will start to take over, but I think he's a guy that has the ability out there and we probably want to try to improve. But we want to improve in all areas."
Austin, who spent the last three seasons as the Baltimore Ravens defensive backs coach, compared Slay to Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was selected in the first round (No. 27) of the 2011 NFL Draft by Baltimore. Smith, like Slay, has great size and speed, but was considered a bit raw coming out of college.
It took Smith two seasons to crack the starting lineup in Baltimore, but he recorded 59 tackles, two interceptions, defended 16 passes and forced three fumbles in his first full season as a starter (16 games) in 2013.
"He was a lot like Darius," Austin said of Smith. "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, like a lot of them, sometimes it just clicks.
"It takes reps, it takes time, and when it does, he starts improving in certain areas and everything else picks up. That's the thing. We'll work on Darius. He's got a lot of talent, he's got a lot of room to improve and so we'll try to just kind of improve on this area and this area and keep working the areas. Hopefully the improvement will show and he'll be able to play an important part for us this year."
It seems Slay will be given every opportunity to earn a starting spot heading into year two.
If Slay can rid hmself of some of his rookie inconsistencies, and take a similar step forward as Smith did under Austin's tutelage, the Lions will be in a much better spot at cornerback.