INDIANAPOLIS – The next progression for talented young Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay and his game is to get more hands on footballs and generate more of the game-changing plays we saw a snippet of last season.
Slay forced a late fumble and sealed the victory against Philadelphia at home with an interception last year. His interception against Minnesota late in the fourth quarter set up the game-winning field goal in that contest.
Those were two big interceptions for Slay, but they were also his only interceptions. He has six total in four seasons.
Slay's gotten his hands on discernibly more footballs during training camp this year, and that continued in Thursday's joint practice with the Colts.
Slay had a terrific practice, intercepting two balls in offense vs. defense team drills. He had a terrific interception off Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien along the sideline. He stepped in front of the pass, juggled it briefly, but was able to secure the ball and get both feet in bounds before stepping out of bounds. He later recorded his second interception on a tipped pass.
"It's very encouraging," Slay said after practice.
"I'm trying to be a turnover machine for the defense, man. I'm just trying to give Matt (Stafford) more chances to put points on the board."
The Lions recorded just 14 takeaways last season. Only Chicago, Cleveland and Jacksonville had fewer. Of the team's 10 interceptions, only three came from the cornerback position.
Slay is hoping that what he's been doing early on in camp with the interceptions and getting hands on more footballs continues into the season, and he becomes a more frequent playmaker for a defense looking to make more big plays.
"He has ability," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said of Slay. "I think every year you'll find with these guys that the longer they are in the league, they work on a lot of the finer details. And he's one of those guys that's trying to find a way to get better. Obviously, the more the merrier in terms of interceptions and opportunities that come his way."
Speaking of turnovers, in an attempt to force more as a defense, the Lions are focusing on creating more of those opportunities in practice, according to Slay. The team sometimes utilizes a portion of practice time for a turnover circuit period. There are different stations focusing on things like stripping the football or keeping a live ball inbounds along the sideline or tip and interceptions drills.
View photos from 2017 Detroit Lions training camp practice with the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 10, 2017.
"Some guys aren't used to having the ball in their hands," Slay said. "With us doing turnover circuit it's a common thing for us now. Now, you have to stand there and use the sideline catches and stripping the ball. If we don't practice it we won't do it in the game."
Slay said it's becoming second nature now for him that when he tackles he's also trying to strip the football or if he has a chance to make an interception along the sideline to make sure he's using the toe tap.
The thing Matthew Stafford liked most about Thursday's joint practice was that it put some players on offense in some uncomfortable situations.
"We're not game planning these guys," Stafford said. "We're showing up. We're playing basic football and it's against looks we haven't seen. So, it puts guys in a little bit of an uncomfortable situation and makes them react, see how they react and see how they play.
"And can they follow their fundamentals and go out there and play? And then, obviously, the competition aspect of it is ramped up and a lot of fun."
The Lions were a bit sloppy on offense Thursday, dropping too many passes and having too many footballs hit the dirt. Some guys certainly looked uncomfortable, and there will be some good coaching moments that come out of it.
Stafford liked the fact that he and his teammates on offense got to work against a very different defense than the one they go against every day in Detroit.
"Big, physical team," Stafford said of the Colts' defense. "Obviously, a 3-4 base team, you know, big, tall guys. Run around well. Good back end. Good defense.
"Our base defense is a lot different than their base defense so it was kind of fun to mix it up a little bit and see some different looks, and our guys had to communicate a lot up front. It's good for us. It's a good team."
Players still on PUP: DE Ziggy Ansah, T Taylor Decker and T Corey Robinson
Players still on NFI: P Sam Martin
Not practicing Thursday: Tight end Eric Ebron, guard T.J. Lang, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, running back Mike James, tackle Cornelius Lucas, safety Rolan Milligan and linebacker Nick Bellore
Right tackle Rick Wagner left practice with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
"Yeah, he's just out for a little bit but he should be okay," Caldwell said of Wagner after practice. "He just got a little issue so he'll be alright."