Lions relying on Darius Slay to be their guy

Posted Jun 16, 2014

After releasing cornerback Chris Houston, the Lions are hoping that Darius Slay's good offseason performance will continue to trend forward into training camp and the regular season.

The Detroit Lions released veteran cornerback Chris Houston on Friday, one year after signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract. They did so because of a toe injury they felt was likely to hamper his play moving forward.

It was a tough decision to move on from Houston, but one likely made easier by the play of Darius Slay this offseason. The second-year cornerback out of Mississippi State was one of the better performers in Teryl Austin’s new man-cover scheme this offseason. It’s a scheme that Slay says better suits his game, which showed in his play during the open practice sessions.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay (Photo: Detroit Lions)

“Even when you’re off the ball, it’s still man,” Slay said. “I know when training camp comes we’re going to be all up in (the receiver’s) faces every play.”

Slay’s size, speed and athleticism make him a tailor-made cornerback for that kind of scheme.

But there’s still a lot of faith being shown by the Lions in Slay. Let's not forget he's entering just his second season with only four starts under his belt.

The Lions are banking that his offseason performance will continue to trend forward into training camp and then extend to the regular season.

“Obviously, we all know and realize that he does indeed have skill and ability,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “The guy can run. He can flat run, he can jump. He’s got all the physical tools that you’re looking for. He’s just lacking a little bit of experience.

That inexperience showed early on in 2013, when he was benched twice for veteran Rashean Mathis, before ultimately losing his starting role to Mathis permanently.

Slay got progressively better as the year went on, however, and when given an opportunity to start in place of the injured Houston later in the year, he played his best football.

He played well against Green Bay on Thanksgiving and probably had his best game of the year in the season finale in Minnesota. Followed by terrific offseason, the Lions obviously see an upward trend here.

“It’s been a couple months now we’ve been working and he’s grown,” Caldwell said. “He’s gotten a little bit better. He’s coming along. He’s more confident. It’s a new scheme, but he’s making good progress. We feel good about where he’s heading.”

He and the 34-year-old Mathis, who turned out to be the team's most consistent cornerback last year, will enter training camp as the starters on the outside. Third-year cornerback Bill Bentley, who's also had a good offseason, is the top man in the slot. Veteran Cassius Vaughn and fourth-round draft pick Nevin Lawson are in reserve.

There are certainly question marks with that group. Does Slay continue this upward trend? Can Mathis continue to play like he’s 28 and not 34? Do the Lions have the right mix of reserves?

Those answers are coming, but when it comes to Slay, the Lions think he’s ready for the spotlight and well equipped to do the job.