Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers talk about the Lions' 2-0 start and this weekend's showdown against the Atlanta Falcons. Detroit News
Allen Park — Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay still has the infectious enthusiasm of a child, but after years of mentoring from polished veterans Glover Quin and Rashean Mathis, Slay has learned to tone down his exuberant confidence, which could easily be perceived as immaturity and arrogance.
Don’t be confused. Slay hasn’t really changed. He’s still the talented, fun-loving, confident cornerback the Lions awarded a four-year, $48 million contract last year, but he’s unquestionably shown some signs of growing up in recent years.
Slay is off to a strong start this season. It’s a continuation of his upward trajectory as one of the game’s better young cover corners, although he rarely gets the pub of many of his peers. He’s given up seven receptions through two games, but for a mere 64 yards, thanks in large part to no missed tackles. And he’s already broken up three passes, including two that prevented touchdowns last week against the Giants.
Corners typically make get national attention one of two ways — they force turnovers, or they shut down the game’s best receivers. Slay will have a chance at the latter this weekend with Julio Jones coming to town.
Jones is the prototype at his position, checking in at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with elite measurables. He’s averaged better than 100 yards per game the past four years, and his 96.1 yards per game over his career ranks No. 1 all-time, 10 yards better than former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
“He’s an explosive guy, man,” Slay said. “You got to know where he’s at. Very, very talented. One of the best. He can take something from 10 yards to 60 yards quick.”
In the past, Slay would have publicly and privately campaigned to shadow Jones. Now, the 26-year-old corner totes the company line.
“I just want to do whatever coach tells me to do and do it the best,” Slay said. “That’s really it.”
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin certainly wasn’t about to share his game plan. Instead, he cracked a joke, noting he’d like to have three or four guys follow Jones around on Sunday.
The last time the Lions and Falcons played, 2014 in London, Slay didn’t travel. Instead, he and Mathis teamed up to limit the star receiver to 58 yards on four catches in the Lions’ victory.
But while the individual matchup figures to be entertaining, Slay can’t lose focus on his other responsibilities, particularly in the run game. Jones and the Falcons other receivers are tremendous blockers and the Falcons love to run the ball outside, with speedy dual threats Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
“They compete every play and I like that,” Slay said about the Falcons receivers. “(Freeman) is a big, solid guy. A solid guy. We’re going to have to hit him. Ain’t nothing we’ve never seen before. But he’s a talented guy. Very, very talented.”