By Ashley Dunkak

ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Veteran cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Chris Houston tutored Darius Slay last season, teaching him the ropes of the NFL and helping him stay positive through a somewhat rough rookie year.

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Now, working with the first team as Houston recovers from a toe injury, Slay is ready to play like he’s the man.

“I didn’t start off how I wanted to just because of the rookie standpoint, going through it, just scared to give up deep balls, just losing it, not being focused, but you see at the end of the year I just locked in more, made a lot more plays than I was supposed to make, and that’s it,” Slay said Wednesday.

“The offseason just helped me a lot, a lot more with angles, splits and everything,” Slay added. “You can see it out here on the practice field. I think I went a good week, hard to catch a ball on me. I had a good week, so I think I’ve been pretty good.”

Mathis said he has seen improvement in Slay from last season to this point of the offseason. The transition from playing cornerback in college to playing the position in the NFL is a difficult one, and Mathis said that Slay is better now for having gone through the experience of his rookie year.

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“He knows more,” Mathis said Tuesday. “Knowledge is power. Knowledge allows you to play a little faster, and that’s what he’s doing. He knows more. He knows how to read offenses a little better, he knows how to dictate a couple routes here and there, so the more experience – you can’t teach experience. That’s one thing you can’t teach, and with the young guys, that’s what’s hard coming in. They don’t have the experience, so it’s hard for them to grasp everything going full speed once they hit the ground running.”

Head coach Jim Caldwell clearly sees all kinds of potential in Slay, particularly from an athletic standpoint, but he talked as if Slay still has lots to learn, as is probably the case for most second-year players.

“Obviously, we all know and realize that he does indeed have skill and ability,” Caldwell said. “The guy can run. He can flat run. He can jump. He’s got all the physical tools that you’re looking for. He’s just lacking a little bit of experience, and he got a lot of experience out there, obviously working through our practice sessions that we’ve had thus far, it’s been a couple months now we’ve been working, and he’s grown. He’s gotten a little bit better, he’s coming along, he’s more confident, it’s a new scheme, but he’s making good progress, so we feel good about where he’s heading.”

While Slay is currently short a veteran mentor with the absence of Houston, he said he has been in touch.

“I’ve been talking to him,” Slay said. “He’s doing pretty good. He said he just saw me make a little play on Calvin on my Instagram, and he commented on it and said, ‘That’s the stuff I like.'”

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