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Steelers' Brown takes Lions' Slay to school

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions cornerback Darius Slay

Latrobe, Pa. -- Antonio Brown's performance does more than enough talking, but if you think the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver is going to quietly go about his business, you couldn't be more wrong.

Going head-to-head against cornerback Darius Slay during the Steelers' joint practice with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, Brown dominated the matchup and he made sure to let everyone know about it.

Brown electrified the crowd of mostly Steelers faithful at St. Vincent College early during the practice session, blowing past Slay down the sideline for a long touchdown during one-on-one drills. The receiver went back to that well on a second rep between the two, but despite getting enough separation at the top of the route, he wasn't able to come down with back-to-back scoring strikes. On the third and final one-on-one rep, Brown streaked down the sideline once more, hauling in a second touchdown.

Slay admitted he was surprised how often the Steelers went deep early.

"The first one, I expected it for the crowd," Slay said. "Three in a row? I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m about to die out here"

As Slay consulted with the official following the final play, arguing his case that Brown was pushing off, Brown chirped at the defender he'd twice burned.

"Hey Slay, we going deep all day, baby," Brown said.

When Brown got the best of Slay during a seven-on-seven play a little later in the session, he shouted to his teammates, "I'm killing him!"

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To be fair to Slay, the receiver holds an clear advantage in those those two drills, where a quarterback doesn't experience any pass-rush pressure and has all the time in the world to set him feet and deliver a perfect throw.  Still, it was a disappointing showing for the talented Lions cornerback who agreed to a four-year, $50.2 million extension with the franchise hours before the start of training camp.

Slay saw his struggles against Brown as a valuable lesson.

"I have to play the deep ball better," Slay said. "It’s on me not to get pushed off. I just have to finish the route.

It's an adjustment Slay had to make last year as well, giving up long completions during early-season home games against the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos. He was beat deep twice on critical plays in the loss to Denver, essentially having a pair of 50-50 balls ripped from his grasp. But those coverage issues were almost non-existence down the stretch.

And Brown is a different kind of challenge all together. The four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro is arguably the NFL's best receiver. He led the league with 136 receptions last season and finished second in receiving yardage and gains of 20 or more.

"He presents a very, very unusual challenge for him because he’s a guy who is fast, he’s quick, he’s an extremely smart guy just in terms of how he understands he disrupts the coverage techniques of defenders," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

Slay, who sharpened his craft defending Calvin Johnson in practice the past few years, noted the 5-foot-9 Brown is a different type of animal to cover.

"I could get my hands on Calvin," Slay said. "You don’t want to mess with (Brown) off the line of scrimmage. He’s very crafty at the line of scrimmage and he trusts his speed."

As for the trash talking, Slay didn't have a problem with it.

"We’re cool, baby," he said. "We’re just out here to work, to get better."

Slay will get two more shots to even the score with Brown this week. The two will meet again on the practice field Wednesday afternoon and also the teams' first preseason game, Friday night at Heinz Field.

"It’s a big challenge," Slay said. "He’s the best in the business. ...The only thing it’s going to do is make me better."

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