By: Will Burchfield
Darius Slay spends a lot of time around Glover Quin: in the Lions’ locker room, where the two have neighboring stalls, and on the football field, where they anchor the team’s secondary.
And Quin, the eight-year NFL veteran, is constantly in his younger teammate’s ear: Just pick the ball, Slay.
“That’s all he always tells me – ‘Pick the ball, Slay. You’re in great position, just pick it,’” Slay said.
So he did just that on Sunday, coming up with a crucial fourth-quarter interception to seal the Lions 24-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
But that wasn’t all.
On Philadelphia’s previous drive, Slay forced a fumble by Ryan Matthews to set up Detroit’s game-winning field goal. On the play, he prevented the Eagles running back from gaining the sideline and then jarred the ball loose with a well-timed tackle.
Turns out, Quin’s been on him about that, too.
“He always told me to set the edge on a fumble so I had to set the edge,” Slay said. “And then what happened?”
Slay, 23, was named the NFC defensive player of the week on Wednesday, becoming the first Lions cornerback to win the award since 2000.
“It’s a great blessing, I owe it to my teammates,” he said.
Then Slay gestured toward Quin, standing at the locker to his left.
“He’s got a standard for me and I gotta reach that standard every week,” Slay said. “He’s not going to say anything else, so that’s what I gotta do.”
After an up-and-down start to the 2016 campaign, Slay has begun to live up to Quin’s expectations – not to mention the $50.2 million contract he signed in the offseason. According to ProFootballFocus, Slay has been the fourth best cornerback in the league this year.
“He’s playing good. He’s playing the way we need him to play,” Quin said.
Jim Caldwell believes Slay, in his fourth NFL season, may just now be coming into his own.
“Obviously he’s one of our better players and certainly our best corner and he’s made plays for us in previous years. I think he’s gotten to the point now where he’s getting better and better,” Caldwell said.
The coach drew a comparison to his own line of work to illustrate Slay’s potential.
“Howard Mudd, when he was with us at Indianapolis, would never get fazed by any sort of look that you gave him on defense because he’d seen it all. He’d have a quick answer,” Caldwell said, referring to the Colts’ longtime offensive line coach.
“Players get to that point as well, and I think that Darius is moving in that direction. He’s still a young guy, but he’s getting better all the time.”
At his best, Slay is one of the Lions’ most influential players. He has the ability to eliminate opposing receivers and lock down large swaths of the field, allowing the defense to dictate the terms of the game.
“Anytime you can go man-to-man and cover guys and take care of your side of the field, it means a lot. It takes pressure off other guys, you can do different things in coverage,” Quin said. “He’s a very, very talented guy.
“He’s definitely a weapon.”
Slay proved that once again on Sunday, lifting the Lions to a critical Week 5 victory.
“When you get an opportunity to make plays, you have to make them. I say it it all the time: that’s what separates guys,” Quin said.
Surely, Slay’s heard that one as well.