NFL Nation: Darius Slay

 

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions waited until the third day of the draft to select a cornerback. They didn’t make a splashy signing there in free agency, either.

Bailey
And as training camp wore on and now as the team enters the regular season, one thing is becoming clear: If there is an area of need on the roster, it appears to be at that position, which is not surprising or unfamiliar to the Lions.

The team has been digging around everywhere to try and find some cornerback help, from signing veteran Drayton Florence during camp only to release him during the first wave of cuts. Then on Wednesday, the Lions reportedly brought in some cornerbacks for a workout.

That was followed by Thursday morning, when the team chose to see what All-Pro Champ Bailey, who became a free agent Saturday, had left in him.

Listen, this is what the Lions should be doing. They know -- and have proven in the past -- that they are willing to try and upgrade their roster by whatever means necessary, especially in the secondary. They did that last season when they brought in Rashean Mathis, who ended up as a starter for Detroit, during training camp.

That signing worked out for them. The team appears to at least be hunting for someone who could do that again.

Bailey would be an intriguing move for the Lions if they ended up deciding to sign him because of what he could bring to a cornerback group that is lacking experience other than Mathis. Much like Mathis the season before, Bailey could end up mentoring second-year pro Darius Slay as the team hopes to groom him to be their next good cornerback.

Bailey also could provide assistance to rookie Nevin Lawson and third-year pro Bill Bentley, who has been inconsistent throughout his career.

There’s also the fact that if Bailey can still play at even close to the level he was even two years ago in Denver, when he was an All-Pro, he’ll be an upgrade for a Lions secondary that still appears to be somewhat of a weakness.

Whether the team ends up signing Bailey or not, though, it does show there is at least some concern about the depth of the Lions' cornerbacks and that they are looking for some improvement in the area.
Maybe the Detroit Lions should think about forgoing second-round picks for the immediate future.

Van Noy
This is not a serious statement, of course, but considering the lack of immediate success -- or any success at all -- the team’s second-round picks have had recently, it is at the very least a very odd, very random coincidence.

The team’s latest second-round pick, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, was tabbed during May’s draft as a player who could be an immediate starter for the team at SAM linebacker. Then he missed part of spring workouts due to injury. After coming back for the first part of the preseason, he injured his abdominal muscle, resulting in surgery Thursday and a chance he’ll be out for a while.

And now you can add him to the list of players who at the very least did not do much during their first years.

Here are the second-round picks under current general manager Martin Mayhew:
  • Last season’s second-round pick, cornerback Darius Slay, started the first two games of the season before being benched in favor of Rashean Mathis.
  • The team’s 2012 second-round pick, Ryan Broyles, was coming off an ACL injury his last year at Oklahoma. Then he tore an ACL his rookie year, returned and ruptured his Achilles midway through last season. He is playing Thursday night fighting for a roster spot.
  • Detroit’s two second-rounders in 2011 have both been disappointments. Receiver Titus Young had stability issues and was released by the Lions after two seasons. He is currently in jail awaiting his latest court case in California. Running back Mikel Leshoure is the team’s No. 4 running back and not guaranteed of being on the roster by the end of the weekend.
  • Perhaps the team’s best second-round pick of recent memory was Louis Delmas, who was released this offseason and now is with Miami. But he was at least productive.

That list is not an inspiring group, to be sure, but the team still has high hopes for Van Noy and it is way, way too early to judge anything about his career based off its start. But considering the team’s past, there should at least be some concern of how much -- if at all -- they’ll be able to use their linebacker prospect during his first season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The hands stuck out the most.

That is what Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay remembers about Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. Johnny Football, a.k.a. the quarterback sensation in Cleveland) before he even took a single NFL snap, which happens Saturday night in Detroit. Manziel is not an overly imposing guy for a quarterback, but then Slay saw the hands he throws the ball with.

And perhaps more than his legs and his moxie and his elusiveness, they caught his attention.

Slay
“Biggest hands I’ve seen,” Slay said. “Yeah, you know. Most quarterbacks that [are] 6-foot ain’t got that big of hands like that. I think his hands are bigger than most people I ever saw.

"They are real big. He probably wears a four-inch glove or something."

Slay should remember Manziel well. The then-redshirt freshman quarterback destroyed Mississippi State during Slay's redshirt freshman season, completing 30 of 36 passes for 311 yards and rushing 21 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns, part of a season that led to a Heisman Trophy and the quarterback turning into a household name.

Slay had four tackles and a pass breakup in what was a 38-13 Texas A&M trouncing.

"I ain’t never heard of him until that year," Slay said. "But he is very talented. Got a good gift."

Part of that gift is making plays when everything looks lost for his team. It is what makes him both an unpredictable quarterback and an incredibly gifted one.

So what does Slay consider the biggest challenge facing him? He offered something that might be the best advice in dealing with the rookie quarterback. Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and head coach Jim Caldwell, when asked about Manziel this week, said they are focused on the Lions right now.

"Just keeping him in the pocket," Slay said. "He gets outside the pocket, he’s a dangerous guy. Just keep him in the pocket and play ball. Make him make the tough throws."

College is different than the NFL, though, and one of the more interesting things for Manziel will be what happens when he does end up outside of the pocket.
DETROIT -- Darius Slay has spent the past year trying to claim the No. 23. On Wednesday, he finally got it.

Slay
The second-year cornerback initially approached veteran Chris Houston for the number after he was drafted in 2013, but Slay said Wednesday night that Houston rebuffed him and that he didn’t want to offer him anything for the number -- a typical tradition for a requested number switch in pro sports.

Then, Houston was released in June and Slay approached Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, asking for the switch.

“He said, 'You got to work for it,'” Slay said. “Obviously, I’ve been doing my work in practice and he felt like I deserved it today.”

Slay said Caldwell told him during lunch Wednesday he could finally make his desired switch from the No. 30 to his desired 23.

Caldwell said after practice Slay earned the jersey switch and that he held a competition between players who wanted it to see who played the best.

“It was a fairly popular number,” Caldwell said.

Why did Slay want 23?

Part of the reason is it is his favorite higher number since he can’t wear a number between 1 and 19 due to NFL regulations. So he wanted 23. And there was another reason, too.

His favorite player in the NFL -- something he mentioned often last season -- is Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, who he will coincidentally see Saturday night when the Lions open the preseason against the Browns.

Now that Slay has the number, the Lions are hoping he can do more than just idolize Haden. They hope he can start playing like him as well.

“That’s my role model,” Slay said. “I look up to him and [he’s] one of my favorite players.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 7

August, 4, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions seem to be reaching a point where they just want to face anybody else. Monday morning’s practice appeared particularly physical and while there were no fights and only one real injury concern -- Darius Slay’s neck will be fine -- it led to some big collisions. Perhaps the biggest one came from running back George Winn, who flattened rookie safety Jerome Couplin in the open field. It was the second straight practice where Winn leveled a defensive player on a run.

“You can see he’s a physical guy as well,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what he does.”

Winn was a player the Lions brought in just before training camp.
  • The play of the day came from, who else, Calvin Johnson. Returning to practice after sitting out Saturday’s scrimmage, Johnson leaped over a defensive player while trying to catch a pass from Matthew Stafford. Johnson easily came down with the ball, gained his footing for a second and went on from there. This reminded me of something his college coach, Chan Gailey, said to me last year. By the second season, he almost took for granted those plays by Johnson because they were almost a daily practice occurrence. And you wonder why Johnson is considered a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to cover.
  • The kicking competition continues to tighten. While Nate Freese continues to appear to have a slight hold on the job, he might not for much longer. Freese missed two field goals (3 of 5 overall) Monday morning while Giorgio Tavecchio made all five of his. While Freese has struggled since camp opened, Tavecchio has only missed one field goal by my count -- on the first day of practice. Caldwell said after practice he’ll use data to make the kicking decision, and Tavecchio is piling some strong data right now to win the gig.
  • Overall, this was a very strong day for the defense, especially during the running period. The running backs had very few holes to run through – especially so once the starters took a breather. It was similar during some passing plays, with either Stafford having to take off on the run or, in one case, C.J. Mosley busting through the line to touch-sack backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky.
  • When Slay went out, the Lions kind of offered up a little bit of the depth chart at cornerback – one of the tightest competitions out there. With Slay out, the Lions went to Cassius Vaughn on the outside next. So it would seem like the cornerback tiers right now are Slay and Rashean Mathis as starters, Bill Bentley and Vaughn as the top reserves and then Jonte Green, Nevin Lawson and Chris Greenwood behind them. It may be in that order, although Lawson will end up with a roster spot since he also plays nickel. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out Saturday in the preseason opener.
  • One noticeable thing during practices -- and I'll have a little more on this either tonight or Tuesday morning -- but the Lions haven't been stretching and warming up in a designated period during camp. That, apparently, is by design as Caldwell is trusting his players to take care of themselves on their own. So far, with only two minor injury scares, it appears to be working.

The Lions are back at practice Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. with an open practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions had a scrimmage Saturday during their yearly family day, dividing the roster into the first-team offense and second-team defense on one side and the second-team offense and first-team defense on the other. The first-team offense and defense had all the typical players save Calvin Johnson, who did not practice Saturday. That wasn’t surprising considering the Lions’ focus on keeping their star as fresh as possible. In their daily switch, LaAdrian Waddle lined up with the first team at right tackle and Corey Hilliard with the second team, but that competition between two players who will make the roster continues. Defensively, Tahir Whitehead received a lot of time at linebacker spelling Stephen Tulloch.
  • Big day for Eric Ebron, who caught a really long pass from Matthew Stafford and appeared to be more confident on the field than he has at any point this camp. It’s still going to be a learning process for him for a bit and there will certainly be mistakes, but Saturday was encouraging. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed comfortable with Ebron’s progress as he learns the multitude of spots he is expected to line up at this fall. Ebron’s play was one of the highlights for the Lions’ offense of the scrimmage considering his issues with drops.
  • The Lions had some issues snapping the ball when Dominic Raiola was not part of the scrimmage. Both Darren Keyton – playing with the first group – and Travis Swanson had bad snaps to quarterbacks, causing issues. In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
  • Detroit’s cornerback situation behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis could get interesting. Jonte Green had his best day of camp thus far, breaking up two passes intended for receiver Ryan Broyles, who has not run with the first team much this camp. Chris Greenwood struggled again Saturday as well as those two potentially compete for one roster spot. Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and probably Cassius Vaughn appear to be ahead of both Green and Greenwood on the depth chart – although Lawson is going to mostly play nickel. Still a long way to go in this competition with not much settled in the first week.
  • Another good day for Detroit’s kickers as Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio made all their field goals attempted during the scrimmage, including a 50-yarder from Tavecchio that sailed through the uprights with ease. Unlike last season, when David Akers won the kicking job fairly easily, this season it seems like this could go on for a while. A wrinkle here could be something Caldwell said Saturday – that the team would consider using punter Sam Martin on extremely long field goal attempts. He compared it to his situation in Indianapolis, where Caldwell considered using punter Pat McAfee on long field goals. McAfee never attempted a field goal in a game, though. So something to consider as this competition progresses -- especially as Martin has an extremely impressive camp punting.

The Lions will take Sunday off before practicing again Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Lions Camp Report: Day 5

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Rough day for the first-team offense during a two-minute drill situation. Defensive ends George Johnson and Darryl Tapp -- neither of whom is expected to be a first-team defender this season -- had touch sacks of Matthew Stafford. Stafford and the offense also went three-and-out on one possession with the quarterback being forced to throw away multiple passes when no one was open. Not surprisingly, Ndamukong Suh was also causing havoc up the middle. The second team fared better, scoring a touchdown and having Giorgio Tavecchio also make a 41-yard field goal to close practice. Jim Caldwell didn't seem too concerned, though, with any of the issues the first-team offense was having.
  • Why not? Well, the first-team offense still has Calvin Johnson, who made two exceptional catches Friday to show why he is the top receiver in the game. He grabbed a touchdown in 7-on-7 after the play was whistled dead, but the way he plucked it was exceptional. There was another play in which a Stafford pass looked like it was headed nowhere, then Johnson came out of his break, dove perfectly on the low ball and caught the ball in front of Chris Greenwood in 11-on-11. It was one of those plays that no defensive back can do anything about. And that has nothing to do with Greenwood, as other cornerbacks will attest to.
  • This was perhaps the best day for Detroit's kicking competitors thus far. Combined, Nate Freese and Tavecchio went 11-for-11, including Tavecchio's 41-yarder to end practice in a two-minute situation. Both also made field goals from 53 yards during a special teams section of practice. Meanwhile, Sam Martin is having a great camp punting. He continually boots punts of more than 65 yards and appears stronger than his rookie season already.
  • Among the defenders who stood out was rangy cornerback Mohammed Seisay. The Nebraska product, whom I wrote about more in depth here, is still a longshot to make the roster. However, with uncertainty in the final one or two cornerback spots, a strong camp could make him a consideration. He read a pass to tight end Eric Ebron perfectly during one-on-ones and broke the play up well. He wasn't the only defensive back to grab attention, as Darius Slay continued to have a strong camp, including a good pass breakup in the one-on-one session.
  • Mentioned Kevin Ogletree on Thursday and he put together another good practice, but Corey Fuller is starting to catch some notice as well among wide receivers. He caught a long pass in the two-minute drill from Dan Orlovsky after easily beating Greenwood. He also had nice catches during the receiver-vs.-defensive back session on both Nevin Lawson and Cassius Vaughn. He is a much more confident player than he was a season ago and looks like a completely different one -– an assessment he said he agreed with following practice.
  • The Lions return to practice at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for their final day of the first week before taking Sunday off. Like Friday, Saturday is expected to be a fully-padded practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
  • Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
  • The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
  • One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
  • In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
  • This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
Darius SlayAdam Bettcher/Getty ImagesDarius Slay is more comfortable in the Detroit Lions' defense than he was last season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Darius Slay was collecting a paycheck from the Detroit Lions last season, yet throughout 2013 he felt as though he never left school.

He spent the entire season learning -- from his on-field play, from then-defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, from veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis in the locker room and then in the offseason with Rod Woodson, one of the best defensive backs in NFL history.

Slay heard from so many influences, and this was both good and bad. He picked up a ton of knowledge. He also had to decipher and implement it and that took a bit more time, resulting in the inconsistent rookie year he had.

Now back for his second season, he knows he needs to learn less. Undergraduate football school, for him, is done.

"I'm way more ready than I was last year," Slay said. "Just coming into the game, I felt like last year I approached it like my senior year in college. So like this year, my game feels a lot better, a lot more comfortable."

To that end, he already somewhat started football graduate school. During the offseason, he spent around a week with Woodson at the Hall of Famer's home in Pleasanton, California -- the second straight year he tutored Slay.

Woodson took Slay out to the field last season prior to the NFL combine. He needed to gauge the skill level of the incoming rookie to know where to start. This season, with Slay having NFL tape to work with and an understanding of the NFL, going to the field wasn't as imperative.

It didn't happen at all.

Woodson made his points verbally with an assist from his yard. They watched one or two games before leaving the television to go outside. There, Woodson would make almost all of the corrections he needed to in Slay’s game, then checked if Slay retained the knowledge. Then they’d go back inside and watch another game or two before doing it all again.

"The biggest thing for him was when he won at the line of scrimmage using press, he won the down," Woodson said. "Then when he played off, he was either sometimes too shallow and played in a no man's land. Instead of playing 7 yards or 8 yards off, he was like 4.

"To play some of these receivers in the National Football League 4 yards off, and you can’t play that way. He has to find a happy medium where he belongs when he's playing off-technique. I think he's pretty good at press and has confidence in press."

When Slay pressed, he could bump a receiver at the line and let his instincts overtake the plethora of information he was still attempting to process from his time at junior college, Mississippi State and in his first season with the Lions.

In doing so, Slay had to unlearn some things from college -- and perhaps high school -- that worked for him in the past. In the NFL, it wasn't going to help. He had to stop playing with his "butt to the sideline," as Woodson explained. It was a technique many college cornerbacks use to see the field.

Do that in the NFL and you're playing catch-up almost every play as receivers take advantage and run by you.

"He had several bad habits," Woodson said. "I don't know if he had those in high school, to be honest, but some of the things that were taught to him from his coaches weren't really good in college so he had to get rid of those. For him, what I have told him is coaches are going to tell you a lot of things he can do.

"You don't have to take all of them, you know. Even with me talking to him, I'm going to tell you a lot of things but don't try to take everything in or do everything."

Too often last season Slay did that. He had his old tendencies to dismiss, a cornerbacks coach trying to impart new knowledge and veterans trying to help through experience. Then the advice from Woodson.

It forced him to think more than react, to not trust what he knew before, because as he was taught different things, he wasn't really learning it or understanding it to an NFL level yet. Hence his almost-apprenticeship last season.

Already, the Lions see a more comfortable Slay.

"He's grasping things a little more," Mathis said. "It's still a learning process for him, but he's learning stuff more. He's communicating a little more."

He also is trusting himself more and potentially playing in a scheme more suited for him. One of the issues Woodson corrected in the offseason was Slay's positioning in off-the-line coverage. Simply, the rookie was never truly sure where to position himself on the field.

He might not have to do that as much this season as Slay and other defensive backs said the Lions will be more aggressive this season with their secondary play.

"I would ask him what did he see in the downs, what did he do wrong and what did he do right," Woodson said. "Then by the time we got done, I made him write down his positive traits, what he does well and then what he does bad.

"Then I told him what he does well, you don't need to work on those every day but need to diminish your weaknesses, and if you diminish weaknesses and play to your strengths, you're a pretty good player."

Right now, that might be Slay's most important lesson of all. He's already learned so much -- and knows he isn't done yet.

"How much do I need to learn? Yeah, you see a big difference into the game and how I practice," Slay said. "You just see it. I know so much more than I did last year."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Cassius Vaughn broke on the ball, intercepted Dan Orlovsky, and the entire Detroit Lions defensive sideline went nuts – celebrating like the pick had happened in a real game and resulted in tangible points instead of what it really was, a play made against the team’s backup quarterback during a May workout.

This, though, is perhaps one of the changes for Detroit this upcoming season.

It may only be May and it is still a long way from training camp and the start of the regular season, but one of the definitive things new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has brought to the Lions is an abundance of exuberance.

[+] EnlargeWide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesPress coverage will likely be the norm for Detroit's cornerbacks, including Rashean Mathis, this season.
“We do like what’s going on,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We do believe in the process. That makes you have a little more energy, when everybody on the team is sold out and sold into the process and buying into what coach is doing. And everybody believes in what he’s doing.”

Part of that could just be the change in coaching staff from Jim Schwartz to Jim Caldwell – of which the most defining shift would be a personality change, for better or worse. But on defense, more seems to be changing.

The Lions will almost definitely be more multiple in their looks and their packages in 2014 – the way the team drafted somewhat hinted at that, as well as Austin being straightforward about that. They will employ specific ends – an open end and a closed end – instead of being more interchangeable last season.

The open end – likely Ezekiel Ansah – will play on the side opposite of the tight end in any formation. The closed end, for now Jason Jones, is typically bigger and will be used to try and bump on the tight end side of the field in an attempt to disrupt his route.

That will happen up front.

In the back end, there will be separate free and strong safety designations – that’s been known for a while – but how they play corner also will be changing. Expect everything to be much more aggressive with the Lions’ cornerbacks.

“I feel we’ll press way more this year,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “Way, way more. Probably every play.”

There are risks and benefits to that. The benefit is if the Lions are successful there, it will push receivers off of their routes to start. That might alleviate some of the problems Detroit had reaching the quarterback last season. Too often, they were a step or two from sacking opponents.

This could give the Lions that extra half-second to force those plays. While the true implementation and success of this will not be known until September, the beginnings of it are already there.

They look faster. They look more excited. They look more like a defense focused on causing havoc and creating turnovers from the back to the front.

“Yeah, for sure,” receiver Kevin Ogletree said. “Those guys are playing like it and bringing an intensity that we need on defense.”

While a lot of that has to do with the fiery Austin and the defensive staff he retained – Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek on the line – and hired – Bill Sheridan with linebackers and Alan Williams with defensive backs – that’s not all of it.

It isn’t necessarily the coaching or the scheme. It is how they are selling it. That type of convincing doesn’t always happen. And that begins with Caldwell.

“I’ve been a part of a new coaching staff where everything is not agreeable or coaches are not selling whatever they should sell well,” Mathis said. “But you know, you can deny a lot of things but you can’t deny honest and truth and that’s what Caldwell is.

“He’s straight and to the point. He doesn’t have to scream, doesn’t have to yell.”

He leaves that to his players when they make plays instead.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been spending part of the offseason trying to upgrade their secondary.

On Monday, the team added what could be another piece, signing cornerback Cassius Vaughn to a one-year deal according to the Detroit Free Press.

The 26-year-old Vaughn played college ball at Ole Miss and went undrafted in 2010. He spent two seasons with Denver before heading to Indianapolis for 2012 and 2013.

He played in every game for the Colts over the past two seasons and has played in 54 games in his NFL career, making 116 tackles and intercepting five passes. He has also recovered four fumbles in his career.

Vaughn adds to a large group of cornerbacks already on the roster, including veteran Chris Houston and younger players Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. The Lions are also expected to add a cornerback during May's NFL draft, perhaps even with a first round selection.
DETROIT -- Throughout the first week of free agency, the Detroit Lions continued to focus on offense, the part of the game the team is most known for and the part of the game that has produced the more gaudy numbers for the team in recent years.

The offensive power is strong. The offensive power added receiver Golden Tate, retained tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued to stockpile players attempting to score.

Ihedigbo
But what about defense? The other side, the side that helped Seattle win a Super Bowl last season. The side of the ball where Detroit has noticeably struggled in recent seasons despite the drafting of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah in the first round of three of the past four drafts.

A lot of focus is on the Lions’ sub-par pass defense -- the cornerbacks struggled yet again in 2013 -- but Lions president Tom Lewand looks at pass defense as encompassing everyone on the defense.

“When you’re talking about pass defense, you’re not just talking about defensive backs,” Lewand said Monday at the MGM Grand. “I think you have to talk about everybody on the defense, because they all defend the pass.

“We built our team up front, and I won’t change a thing about that. Giving the quarterback a very short time to throw the ball, create a lot of pressure.”

Yet the Lions have not made any real impact moves defensively during free agency. They signed two defensive linemen for depth -- Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp -- and let a productive defensive end, Willie Young, leave for Chicago.

In the secondary, the Lions have only visited with one free agent, safety James Ihedigbo, and he left without signing a contract. That might happen, but until it does, that leaves Detroit without any impact changes in the defensive backfield. The most noticeable move they have made was bringing in Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a potential first-round pick, for a visit Monday.

But the Lions say they are trying to, and have in the past, made attempts to improve their defense.

“Are we looking at ways to strengthen our team and our defense, absolutely,” Lewand said. “I think we have to do that. We lost Louis Delmas to the Miami Dolphins, and we’ve been looking at ways to add to our secondary.

“I think we’ve done that the last few years, whether it’s drafting a number of defensive backs in the middle rounds, in the second round last year with Darius Slay, and we see a lot of those young corners developing.”

It is possible Detroit could add to that, too. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said at his introductory news conference that he could never have enough cornerbacks. He has a lot of young ones, but few proven ones other than Chris Houston, who had an inconsistent 2013.

So it is still an area the team could draft, both at corner and safety, in May as the Lions search for whatever way possible to improve their team.

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