The Detroit Lions have been searching for an identity on defense the past couple seasons. Last season, they underachieved on their defensive line. It didn't help that star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah struggled with an ankle injury all season. Looking beyond Ansah, nobody else was able to generate much of a pass-rush.
Another group that needs to improve is the secondary. They were brutal when it came to stopping the opponent's passing game. Detroit allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete over 72 percent of their passes and have a TD/INT ratio of 3:1.
On the other hand, Darius Slay was a bright spot in this unit during that time.
He sealed two victories with timely interceptions. Slay picked off Carson Wentz late in the fourth quarter to solidify a 24-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. On Thanksgiving day, he intercepted a pass against the Minnesota Vikings that led to a game-winning field goal.
Slay finished the season with 44 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 83.2, which ranked 16th among all cornerbacks in the NFL.
With another above average season, will Slay take the next step in his career?
Everything seems to point in that direction. Slay has been very consistent over his four seasons as a Lion. Cornerbacks coach Tony Oden believes Slay's work ethic will reflect in his performance.
“He can improve. I can improve as a coach to put him in position to make those plays, and those things will happen,” Oden said.
“The talent level’s there,” Oden said. “He has to do it and we have to put him in position to do it. The chips got to all align, but he’s progressing nicely so that’s a good thing.”
It's his time to step up and lead Detroit's secondary. Slay will see a number of good receivers this season, including Julio Jones of the Falcons, Antonio Brown of the Steelers and A.J. Green of the Bengals. It will give everyone an indicator of how good he truly is.
The 2017-2018 season could very well be Darius Slay's breakout season. His stats point to that as well as his coaching staff believing so. The Lions will need him with all of these high-powered offenses on their schedule.