There will be a handful of new food items and beverage choices at Lions game this year. And we tried them all. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — It was just a glimpse, if that. On a random Tuesday in August, one of the best receivers in football went against one of the best cornerbacks, a few short routes executed in front of a few hundred fans.
It’s immaterial who did what, as the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and the Lions’ Darius Slay squared off during the teams’ joint practice at the Lions’ facility. OBJ caught at least one pass on a crossing pattern in front of Slay, then slid to the ground.
The Lions’ No. 2 cornerback, Nevin Lawson, also lined up against Beckham, who’s returning from a broken ankle suffered in Week 5 last season. The fans enjoyed the Slay-OBJ matchup, cheering the showdowns. More notable than those snapshots, though, was the big-picture view of the Lions’ strengths, especially at cornerback and receiver.
“I feel like I go against the best receivers in the game in every practice, so it was no different,” Lawson said. “(OBJ) did his thing. I don’t get overly excited, just another football player I’m going against. My adrenaline is raised when I go against Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Golden Tate in practice.”
Beckham was held out of the Giants preseason opener, so there’s still some question when new coach Pat Shurmur will cut him loose, perhaps Friday night against the Lions. He was loose at times Tuesday, snagging about five passes against various defenders, although Slay shrugged it off.
“It’s not really anything I take personally,” Slay said. “He’s catching the rock, running the rock. He’s always been explosive. He’s never going to lose that, except when he turns 50, I suppose. I’ve been playing Odell going on 3-4 years, so not really nothing new.”
No one says anything of note during training camp, let’s get that out of the way. Especially at Lions camp, where Matt Patricia is determined to set league records for uttering the most pleasantly generic phrases in the shortest amount of time.
But in deeds, the Lions have flashed their ability in key skill areas such as receiver and cornerback. Jones made a spectacular leaping catch in the middle of the end zone between two defenders, a scene he has repeated often. Jones and Tate were the only NFL tandem to each top 1,000 receiving yards last season, and rookie Golladay added 28 catches for 477 yards while battling injuries.
Some national sites, including NFL.com, list the Lions’ receiving corps among the top five in the league. Based on productivity, it’s hard to argue, as Tate has finished with at least 90 catches four straight seasons. He also led all receivers in yards-after-catch last season, and at 30, is still tough and elusive.
The Lions receivers are as notable for what they aren’t — gimme-the-ball divas — as for what they are, dependable and big-play capable. Tate’s contract is due to expire, and he said he gave no thought to holding out, and will play it out and hope to earn another deal. It’s the type of commitment too often overshadowed by contract demands around the league.
On the other side was one of the most-dynamic and volatile receivers in the game, perhaps the best. Beckham had 101 catches for 1,367 yards in 2016, his last full season, and at 25, is angling for a huge new deal that reportedly is in the works. He wasn’t talking after practice, so we don’t know if he enjoyed his battles with the secondary.
We do know Slay and Beckham played against each other in college — at Mississippi State and LSU, respectively — and are friends. Beyond that, Slay is dialing down the dialogue this season, likely an unfortunate byproduct of the new tight-lipped regime. He also might feel his performance, with eight interceptions and a Pro Bowl bid last season, speaks for itself these days.
“I hold myself in high esteem, so I don’t really care how somebody else holds me, honestly,” Slay said. “I just come out here to go to work.”
Without Beckham’s assessment of Slay, we turned to another Giants pass-catcher, rising second-year tight end Evan Engram. Although he mostly matches up against safeties and linebackers, he got a good look.
“Odell knows Slay is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and he definitely was excited to come out and give it his all,” Engram said. “Slay can play. He can get on top of guys, then can switch gears really quickly. His hips and change of direction are really impressive.”
Slay and Lawson get to test themselves against top receivers every day. And those receivers get to do the same against the secondary, which has depth with Teez Tabor and DeShawn Shead.
The Lions certainly would like another pass-catching threat to emerge, with Eric Ebron gone. It could be receiver TJ Jones or tight end Luke Willson. More ideally, Matthew Stafford will get to hand the ball off in an improved running game and expect actual, you know, first downs.
Marvin Jones credits the physicality of the Lions’ corners for making him more physical, and it shows in his superb body control on deep catches.
“It’s great when you have players that are good cover corners,” he said. “As receivers, we love to go against that every day, so when we go against other people, we’re already ready.”
The Lions' offense isn’t already ready, although flashes from rookie Kerryon Johnson against the Raiders last week indicate the running game is getting ready. It’s all practice football now, and the main thing is staying healthy. But in the sweaty days midway through camp, it was fun to be reminded of the high-level battles that lie ahead.