Cornerback Teez Tabor lucked out in a sense this year as he got a front-row seat to watch Darius Slay have one of the best performances by any CB in franchise history.
Slay led the NFL with eight interceptions and 23 pass breakups, and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Tabor, Detroit’s second-round pick in last year’s draft, was brought along slow by the Lions this season. He was a healthy scratch early in the season before earning some time on sub packages mid-year. By the end of the season, Tabor was playing a significant role as both a nickel and outside cornerback.
It was certainly a much different path for Tabor than Slay took as a rookie. Slay, who was also a second-round pick, was thrown into the fire right off the bat as a rookie in 2013. He struggled early on, and was benched before steadying his play later in the season and finishing his rookie season on a good note.
Tabor is a competitor. He wanted to play early as a rookie, but was thankful of the way the Lions ultimately eased him along this season. Tabor was particularly grateful for the opportunity to learn from the play of Slay, even when Slay didn’t know Tabor was paying attention.
“I took a step back and actually got a chance to learn,” Tabor said. “You don’t really see it at the time, but now that I’m looking back on it, that helped me tremendously. Like, I can’t even explain how just getting able to sit back and watch certain guys and how they play and how they go about their day helped me.
“(Slay) won’t even know some of the stuff that I pick up from him. He’ll probably never know. I just sit back and watch him. He’s a special player and more importantly he’s a special person.”
One of those subtle things Tabor said he picked up from watching Slay was how Slay operated at the line of scrimmage. Tabor studied the way Slay matched up with different opponents.
Slay is a different kind of corner than Tabor. Slay's faster and quicker, while Tabor has a size and length advantage. Tabor said taking elements from the way Slay attacks opponents with a different kind of skill set was a great learning tool that he started adapting to his game at the end of the year.
“It’s a good switch up for me,” Tabor said. “Because I’m long and when I start just mirroring receivers out, it brings a different element to the game.”
Slay was asked about his rookie teammate's development this year, and liked the way Tabor got more comfortable as the year went on. He’s looking forward to seeing how Tabor comes back in the spring.
“Size. Smart. Physical. I’m ready to see what he has coming back, man,” Slay said. “I can see a lot of things good for him. He’s in the same position I was. Real talented. Only thing now is letting the game slow down for him. When the game slows down for him, he’ll be great.”
Slay liked the way the coaches brought Tabor into the mix at the right time in order to keep his confidence high. Slay said that's important for a cornerback.
Tabor knows there’s still a lot of work to be done if he’s going to take on a starting role next year opposite Slay on the outside, or in the nickel, but the experience he received at the end of his rookie campaign was invaluable to him.
“The biggest teacher is experience,” Tabor said of those end-of-the-year reps he received. “You have to learn. Just being out there and learning.
"I’m glad I got those reps so now I at least know what a game feels like, how the flow of it goes, just little stuff you’re not going to be able to know unless you’re really out there.”