One of the toughest positions for college players to come into the NFL and succeed in is at cornerback.
Quarterback is the toughest, by far, and linebackers can have a tough time adjusting to the speed of the game, but young cornerbacks have it rough in this league.
NFL schemes are so much more complicated than they are in the college game and receivers are big, fast and terrific route runners at this level.
Slay had some good moments as a rookie, but was entirely too inconsistent to be relied on the whole year. Where Slay struggled the most as a rookie was playing off receivers, which the Lions did a lot last season.
“When young guys come in the toughest thing for them to do is play off because they are in space,” Lions secondary/cornerbacks coach Tony Oden told detroitlions.com. “All guys come in and think they’re better toward the line of scrimmage because you can have contact with a guy and feel a guy a little better. It’s a little more stressful when you play off because you don’t know exactly where he’s going and you’re still learning how to line up.
“The split, the situation, you’re thinking about all those things with space and a real good receiver. It’s a little unnerving, especially when you first get in. Naturally he wants to get up more.”
The Lions are going to grant Slay and their other cornerbacks that wish this season. That’s not to say there won’t be times when the game plan or situation calls for playing off a receiver, but the Lions plan to plan man coverage behind an aggressive front-seven scheme and want to be much more physical with receivers closer to the line of scrimmage.
“Even when you’re off the ball, it’s still man,” Slay said this offseason. “I know when training camp comes we’re going to be all up in (the receivers') faces every play.”
Slay played his best football towards the end of last season that transitioned right into a good spring. He’s a starter heading into training camp and the Lions have placed a lot on his plate.
“He’s earned the right to play every day,” Oden said. “He’s doing everything that he needs to do and he has a very, very good skill set. He’s fast and he’s quick. I think he wants to get better. He wants to know how to do it. Those are things that point to him being in the right direction and getting better.”
The only thing missing from Slay’s game is experience.
“Experience speaks for itself,” Oden said. “He’s going to get better every practice. He’s going to get better every game. He’s going to be better in Game 4 than he is in Game 1.
“But the more experience he has and the more situational football he learns he’ll be able to become even more comfortable playing off (coverage). We’re going to have a good mix of both for him.”