Lions great Barney sees himself in Darius Slay

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Houston — The Detroit Lions have a history of elite playmakers at cornerback with Hall of Famers Dick LeBeau and Lem Barney, but for the past two decades, the team has struggled to find a top-tier cover option on the outside.

That was until Darius Slay came along.

In a midst of a string of misfires in the second round of the NFL draft, the Lions found a gem in Slay. After laboring through his rookie season, he has established himself as one of the premier young corners in the league. And with his initial contract expiring last season, the Lions wasted little time locking him up with a long-term extension, signing him to a four-year, $48 million pact before the start of training camp.

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Barney, who played for the Lions from 1967-77, and is still a regular at the team’s home games, said he can see a lot of himself in Slay.

“I see him as I saw myself,” Barney said at the NFL Honors ceremony in Houston. “He’s a committed guy, he works hard and he’s a tremendous athlete. I think he’s going to have some sweet things in the future that will happen for him.”

Slay is on the right track, but what he lacks is Barney’s playmaking ability. The Hall of Famer intercepted 10 passes as a rookie and 56 in his storied career. Slay has shown a knack for breaking up throws his direction, but has struggled to consistently produce turnovers, recording only two picks each of the past three seasons.

One area where Barney doesn’t see a lot of similarities to Slay is personality. Slay is a boisterous personality, on and off the field, while Barney was all business during his playing days.

“Coaches Jimmy David and Joe Schmidt, we played together on the ’53 and ’57 championship teams, they didn’t allow that,” Barney said with a laugh.