Darius Slay's return to Detroit highlights connections between Eagles and Lions
Allen Park — If you're sick of homecoming narratives after last week's game, when Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff battled against their former teams for the first time, who could blame you? But this week's matchup between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles also has its fair share.
It starts with Detroit's coaching staff, where running backs coach Duce Staley, offensive line coach Hank Fraley and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp all have deep Philadelphia roots. Additionally, Lions running back D'Andre Swift was born and raised in the city, and right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a fifth-round draft pick for the Eagles and played his first four seasons with the franchise.
But arguably the most intriguing reconnection will be on the opposing sideline.
After seven successful seasons in the Honolulu blue, a stretch that included three Pro Bowl selections and first-team All-Pro honors in 2017, cornerback Darius Slay will play his first game against the Lions since being traded on March 19, 2020.
Admittedly, the matchup probably lost some juice for Slay after the Lions fired coach Matt Patricia last November. The two had a contentious relationship that led to the trade. And while the game is still important to Slay, he's looking more forward to seeing family and friends. Oh, and making a trip to his favorite local restaurant, Captain Jay's Fish & Chicken.
"The only thing that's different is that's like my second home," Slay said. "I was there for seven years. I appreciate (former Lions GM) Martin Mayhew taking a chance on drafting me, the Lions organization for taking a chance on me being there. I've got a lot of family there. I built a lot of relationships, so it's a good home visit for me. I appreciate the fans, for sure. I'm real big in the community there, so it's going to be a good feeling to be in Detroit."
Slay, who turns 31 on Jan. 1, is still playing well. He's the top-ranked defender on Philadelphia's roster, according to Pro Football Focus. And his two interceptions against Carolina fueled the team's last win earlier this month.
"Yeah, we love having Slay on this team," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "I love his personality and the leadership he brings to our organization. Just well-respected around the locker room. He's just a great guy to be around. Obviously, his play speaks for itself. He's been tasked with covering the leading receiver on the opposite team almost every week and he's just done a great job."
The Lions conducted a walkthrough on Wednesday instead of a traditional practice as the coaching staff seeks to ease the team's workload following last week's West Coast trip.
That means the team estimated its injury report for the day, but the good news is every player on the active roster would have participated. Outside linebacker Trey Flowers (knee), tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee/ankle), Swift (groin) and cornerback AJ Parker (shoulder) were projected as limited participants.
That news is particularly good for Parker, who missed most of the second half against the Rams after suffering his shoulder injury. On Monday, coach Dan Campbell didn't sound optimistic about the rookie corner's status, but that had shifted by Wednesday.
"That’s day-to-day," Campbell said. "I would say AJ is better than we thought he was when I talked to you guys last."
The coach offered a less positive update on offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who remains on injured reserve and was unable to practice last week after suffering a setback with his surgically repaired finger.
"I would tell you nothing’s changed," Campbell said. "We’ll just see where it goes. We’re treating it kind of day-to-day, if you will. For me, I don’t have a feeling really one way or another to be honest with you."
The Lions have until the Tuesday following their bye week (Nov. 9) to decide whether to activate Decker or shut him down for the season.
Deadline not on mind
The NFL's trade deadline is next Tuesday, but that's the furthest thing from Campbell's mind as he seeks his first win as Detroit's coach. He's leaving those conversations up to GM Brad Holmes.
"As of right now, if I’m being honest, I’m not even thinking about that," Campbell said. "Brad’s always thinking and looking like, ‘What can we do? How can we upgrade? Is this a smart move? Is it not?’
"And if it’s something he feels like is value, he’ll bring it to me and we talk about it. But right now, that’s not on my mind. I’m about what we have on this roster right now and how we get the most out of them."
The Lions have a handful of players who have been on the roster the past couple weeks but have yet to debut. One of those is cornerback Mark Gilbert, who was poached off the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster on Oct. 12.
And while it's too early to say, particularly with Parker's status up in the air, Campbell acknowledged Gilbert is getting closer to contributing.
"That was a good pickup, Brad and (the scouts) finding him," Campbell said. "We do like him. We think he’s an outside guy and it’s really been more of him just getting acclimated with our terminology and watching his movement skills, what we think he does well. Look, there’s a chance he could be up this week."