MIKE O'HARA

O’HARA: Darius Slay ready for Manziel mania at Ford Field

Posted Aug 7, 2014

Darius Slay is expecting to take a big step forward at cornerback from his rookie season with the Lions, and he sees no better environment to test his progress in than against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on Saturday night in one of the NFL’s most hyped preseason game of the year.

Darius Slay doesn’t want to stay in the shadows away from the spotlight that will follow every move made by ”Johnny Football” in his first dress rehearsal as an NFL quarterback.

Slay is expecting to take a big step forward at cornerback from his rookie season with the Lions, and he sees no better environment to test his progress in than against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on Saturday night in one of the NFL’s most hyped preseason game of the year.

Johnny ManzielQB Johnny Manziel (Photo: AP Images)

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel is the game’s main attraction. He'll play in relief of Brian Hoyer, who is listed as the starter on the team’s depth chart, but the national focus will be on Manziel, who got the nickname “Johnny Football” for his mercurial playing style and lifestyle at Texas A&M.

It doesn’t matter to Slay who plays quarterback when he’s on the field with the No. 1 defense. Slay wants to solidify his status as a starting cornerback opposite Rashean Mathis.

Slay faced Manziel in 2012 while playing at Mississippi State and looks forward to it again.

“Oh yeah,” Slay said earlier in the week. “I’m ready to compete – ready to play ball.”

While Slay is ready for some football, the national media – and fans – are ready for as much Johnny Football as they can get.

Even veteran Lions such as center Dominic Raiola, going into his 14th season, are intrigued over the commotion surrounding Manziel.

“My kids are more excited to come watch him than me,” Raiola said. “He’s the show now.”

More than a dozen national media outlets applied for credentials for Saturday night’s game. In a typical year, the game might have attracted two or three national media members.

But Johnny Football is different. It remains to be seen if he can tailor his sideline-to-sideline scrambling style to succeed in the NFL, but he’s already a star attraction. Manziel has sold more jerseys with his name on the back since he was drafted in May than any other player.

Peter King, chief of the popular Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) website, explained why he’ll be at Ford Field to catch Manziel’s opening act.

“He is fascinating because while he appeals to the football crowd for his derring-do, he appeals to the TMZ crowd because of is ‘Vegas-ness,’” King said. “Not many quarterbacks I have ever seen can do the range of things he can.

“I just hope for football’s sake we get to see it.”

Manziel was just beginning to make his name when A&M played at Mississippi State in 2012. Manziel had a big game in a 38-13 victory. He completed 30 of 36 passes for 312 yards, without a touchdown or an interception. He also ran 21 times for 129 yards and two scores.

However, Slay said he fared well individually. He had four tackles and one of the two pass breakups that were credited to Mississippi State’s defense. And he got into a little trash talking with Manziel.

“He didn’t complete any balls my way, so I was pretty decent,” Slay said.

He also recalled making the pass breakup.

“I had two verticals (receivers) going up the middle, and I broke on one,” he said. “I told him he couldn’t throw it my way, anyway. He’s a pretty cool dude, though.”

Slay was an opening-day starter for the Lions last year after being drafted in the second round. However, the jump from college to the NFL proved too steep. He lost the starting job after two games and started only two more the rest of the year.

Slay figures prominently in the Lions’ plans this year to rebuild the secondary, both in scheme and personnel. In the offseason, safety James Ihedigbo was signed as a free agent to play next to Glover Quin, a key free-agent addition the previous year.

Putting the cornerbacks in more man-to-man coverage should play to Slay’s strength because of his athleticism and size.

“We’re a pretty good group this year,” he said. “Everybody should be competing against every ball that’s in the air -- make sure we make plays and be game-changers.

“I’m getting better every day. That’s my goal, to be better every day.”