With rookies already in Allen Park for the start of training camp, and the veterans set to join them next week, the Detroit Lions are very much in training camp mode.
Over the course of this week, Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara have answered a number of key questions facing the Lions as they begin training camp:
Monday: Best position battle?
Wednesday: Position with the most to prove on offense?
Thursday: Position with the most to prove on defense?
Our camp questions feature wraps up today with a look at the people most important for the success of the Lions in 2018.
5. Who is the most important person in camp in 2018?
Mike O'Hara: Cornerback Darius Slay
His star, stock and stature are rising as one of the league's top defensive backs. That's good for Slay, and it's good for the defense for a couple reasons.
One is obvious. As a lock-down cornerback, he can cover the opposing team's top receiver from game to game, if that's the way head coach Matt Patricia and his defensive staff want to set up the game plan. Doing that lets them double other receivers.
Preparing in camp for his sixth pro season, Slay is entering the prime years of his career at the age of 27. He tied for the league lead with eight interceptions last year, and that was not a fluke. He also was credited with a league-high 26 passes defensed.
Slay's self-confidence – which is never overbearing – and upbeat personality are contagious. That isn't something to be taken lightly in training camp, or during a long season when players must deal with injuries and ups and downs of games.
The old saying that a rising tide lifts all boats can apply to Slay. When Slay made the Pro Bowl last year, Nevin Lawson, who started across from him at right cornerback said it put pressure on other players in the secondary to improve their games to keep pace with Slay.
Second choice: Head coach Matt Patricia. It's a player's game, and that's why I have Slay No. 1, but the head coach is the leader. He establishes the plan and sets the tempo for everything. Players look to him for leadership in all phases – meetings, practice, preseason games. Even scheduling down time and off days is important.
Training camp is a step up from the offseason workouts for everyone, and that includes the head coach and his staff. All eyes are on the head coach.
Tim Twentyman: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
Stafford, 30, is entering his 10th NFL season, and like Slay, is in the prime of his career. The quarterback is and always will be the most important position on the football field. We can count on one hand teams that won a championship with a below-average player at the position.
Stafford is coming off a career-best 99.3 passer rating last season, and ranked in the top six in every major statistical category. He did that with the league's worst rushing attack behind him and being sacked the second most times among all quarterbacks (47). He's done a nice job limiting the turnovers the last two seasons, and that's been of critical importance.
Stafford's had a top 20 rushing attack just once in his first nine seasons. That was in 2013, when the team averaged 112 yards per game on the ground and ranked 17th. The Lions started that season 6-3, but won just one of their last seven contests. Stafford didn't play well down the stretch that year, completing just 54 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 69.9. It just goes to show that an improved run game isn't the answer alone. Stafford needs to continue to play the way he has the last couple seasons alongside an improved run game for the offense to really reach its potential.
Stafford has guided the Lions to three playoff appearances in nine seasons, and is still looking for his first playoff win. If he continues to play well, and the Lions improve their rushing offense and certain aspects on defense, maybe Detroit's playoff victory drought can soon be a thing of the past.
Second choice: Linebacker Jarrad Davis. Davis is the middle linebacker, defensive play caller and a leader on that side of the ball in just his second season. Davis was good as a rookie, but there was room for improvement. What kind of player he becomes in year two will go a long way in determining how good the Lions' defense can be in 2018.