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'Three Amigos' united in Lions secondary

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions defensive backs have a group text message chain.

Cornerbacks Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs have a separate one because they just can’t stop talking to each other.

“The veteran guys, they hang with each other,” Slay said Thursday. “But me, Quandre and Nevo, we the ‘Three Amigos.’”

After years of inconsistency, the Lions could claim cornerback was a position of strength last season. Slay’s growth has been clear since 2014, but when injuries cleared the way for Lawson and Diggs to play more in the second half, the trio provided a glimpse of what could be a bright future.

During the second half, the Lions allowed 221.6 passing yards, which would have been fourth in the NFL for the season. The first eight games, they allowed 252 passing yards, 23rd for the year.

A fourth-round pick in 2014, Lawson is fast and aggressive, which makes him a fit for outside duties despite his size (5-foot-9). When Rashean Mathis missed the last nine games with a concussion, Lawson filled in and finished with 47 tackles and seven passes defensed.

Diggs, a sixth-round pick in 2015, earned his chance as a rookie, playing the backup slot option behind Josh Wilson. When a knee injury forced Wilson to miss the final seven games, Diggs played more and showed off an all-around skill-set, finishing with 35 tackles (two for loss), six passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

While talent brought Slay, Lawson and Diggs to Detroit, they had a deeper bond. All three are from the South — Slay from Georgia, Lawson from Florida, and Diggs from Texas — and are around the same age — Slay and Lawson are 25, Diggs is 24.

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And, all three are competitive, too.

It’s impossible to quantify how much the friendship helps the players, but there’s no doubt playing together for half season was beneficial.

“We showed glimpses of how good we can be in those last eight, nine weeks,” Diggs said. “We have great communication, real good guys that love being around each other and we love playing with each other.”

Lions coaches are fans of the tight relationship, too.

“They like each other,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “They work well together and so I think, like anything, when you play together for a while, you start to learn each other, you play better together, and I think that’s going to happen with those guys. The more they play, the better they’ll get.”

The Lions made a few moves to improve the cornerback depth this offseason, signing veterans Darrin Walls and Johnson Bademosi, among others. After losing his rookie year to an ankle injury, 2015 third-round pick Alex Carter should compete for playing time.

But considering how well Slay played the last two years, and Diggs was a rookie and Lawson effectively a rookie after playing two games before a season-ending foot injury, Austin said he expects the trio to continue improving.

“I think that anytime you can have good cohesion and camaraderie, it’s good for morale overall,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Those guys hang out together and the entire secondary, they go out to eat a lot together and in the long run I think it makes a difference.”

One of the biggest challenges facing the secondary will be adjusting to a new strong safety. But if that happens, it could be a strong unit.

“We’re just normal guys that love to have fun and are able to play ball,” Diggs said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jkatzenstein