DARIUS SLAY GIVES THE EAGLES A CORNERSTONE AT CORNER
I first saw Darius Slay Jr. in practice in the summer of 2016 while covering a scrimmage between the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pa.
It was the 50th summer that the Steelers had gone away to Latrobe to begin training camp. It was quite a celebration that summer highlighted by a two-day scrimmage leading up to a preseason game.
While there were lots of position battles and lots of competition for me to watch and to report on for my NFL NETWORK duties, one battle caught my eye and I couldn't stop watching for two straight days.
Antonio Brown was coming off a 2015 season where he led the NFL with 136 receptions. He was in the middle of four straight first team All Pro seasons whereby I believed he was the best wide receiver in the game.
Evidently so did Darius Slay. Everywhere AB went, Slay followed. Every drill, every snap, every time AB lined up No. 23 was right in front of him. Truth be told, AB won most of the battles. But Slay was never deterred. To be the best you have to beat the best.
In 2016 Slay was entering his 4th season in Detroit. He hadn't yet earned any All-Pro or Pro-Bowl honors to that point. That would begin in 2017 when he led the NFL with eight interceptions and he earned first team all-pro honors. He has been to every Pro Bowl since.
It was at this year's Pro Bowl in Orlando, FL where I sat down with Kurt Warner and Darius Slay in my NFL show, Film Sessions.
We went deep into the film room and watched oodles of tape of him covering the NFL's best receivers. From Keenan Allen to Amari Cooper to Davante Adams. Three tremendous route runners who are also their respective team's No.1 receivers. And when you become that No. 1 then good coordinators move you around from position to position to try and put you in advantageous positions.
For Slay the week of preparation is so important to having success on Sunday.
I came away from the film session with Slay much smarter about cornerback play, and football in general.
He is trying to gain an advantage every way that he can. Communication with everyone around him is paramount.
He is constantly checking with his safeties to see if he has help over the top or behind him.
How far do they line up from the sidelines. How far are their splits. Is there motion; is it a 3 X 1 or a 2 X 2 set. Is it a bunch formation? What are the routes out of the bunch they like to run. What is the down and distance? Does the receiver like double moves?
If it's third down, what are their tendencies??? etc. etc.. A hundred things go through Slay's mind prior to the snap that he processes to give him the best chance of winning the down.
What I really liked about Slay is his demeanor.
He is positive and upbeat. He is a great teammate. He loves to play and to compete. All corners get beat. Its part of the job and it's a testimony to the talent of QB's and WR's in the game. But he doesn't get deterred. He also is not a big trash talker. He has healthy respect for the players he competes against but won't take personal grudges out against opponents costing his team unnecessary penalties.
The acquisition by the Eagles of Slay via free agency gives the Birds a true No. 1 cornerback. I think back to the trouble that the Eagles had a year ago starting in week No. 1 when the Redskins Terry McLaurin hit the gas pedal and smoked the Eagles for two long touchdowns and it continued all the way until their playoff loss to Seattle when rookie DK Metcalf smoked the Birds secondary in the third quarter to seal their fate.
They can let a whole bunch of players from Sidney Jones to Rasul Douglas to Avonte Maddox battle for the cornerback job opposite of Slay but its a luxury when one guy can travel with the opposition's best receiver and compete AGAINST him.
Think about Amari Cooper in Dallas who is the NFL's highest paid receiver, and Slay who had a good game against him this past season. Controlling Cooper helps your team beat Dallas.
In week two last season, the Chargers came to Ford Field to face the Lions. On the afternoon
Phillip Rivers targeted Kennan Allen 16 times that day.
Slay shadowed in man to man coverage for most of those targets. Allen had a lot of small victories extending many drives with third down catches for first downs.
But on the Chargers final play with a minute to go and trailing the Lions 13-10 Rivers went to Allen for the last time in the end zone and a chance to win the game and start the season 2-0. But Slay had a perfect position on Allen and timed his jump perfectly to intercept Rivers in the end zone and secure the Lions victory.
It's a passing league and it is quite cliche' to admonish that it is a QB driven league. I don't dispute that. But to players like Slay, elite No. 1 players, they will tell you that it is a cornerback driven league.
I think the addition of Darius Slay Jr. to the Eagles secondary was a great addition and should amount to more victories this season.
Welcome to South Philly Slay. These fans will love you!! *