Darius Slay Predicts ‘Amazing’ Eagles Defense, Makes Surprising NFL Comparison

Darius Slay

Getty Darius Slay celebrates after a play against the Panthers.

It didn’t take Darius Slay long to find superlatives for the 2020 Eagles’ defense. Amazing. Great. Fast.

The feeling is “different” this year in Philadelphia and so is Slay, the $50.5 million difference-maker at cornerback. Slay has been flashing his trademark smile and confident swagger throughout summer practices. He sees something special in this defense and compared them to one of the nastiest units of the last decade.

“Going to be amazing, reminds me a lot of my 2014 team in Detroit,” Slay told reporters of this Eagles defense. “Great D-line, great young linebackers that can run and stretch the field, got a great secondary that got great leadership … guys that have been in the league eight years. We got guys that have been in four years, got guys that been in three, just a great mixture, and we got great leaders from the front-end to the back-end.”

Wait, Detroit? That was my first reaction, too. But that 2014 Lions defense was a nasty bunch, one that finished second in the NFL in total defense after surrendering just 300.9 yards per game. They also finished third in points-per-game (18.0) while leading the NFL in rushing yards-per-game (69.3).

Those Lions led the entire NFL in quarterback hits (119) and finished eighth in sacks (42) and forced turnovers (27), plus third in interceptions (20). Slay started on that squad opposite Rashean Mathis, with Glover Quinn and James Ihedigbo manning the safety spots. Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah attacked the quarterback, all under the watchful eye of then-Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Make no mistake, Slay was a big part in setting the mood and locking down receivers back then. And there’s good reason to be excited right now, per Carson Wentz.

“Darius Slay obviously jumps out at you,” the Eagles quarterback said last week. “He’s a difference-maker for that defense and I’m excited that I no longer have to throw him any more interceptions or any more of those things now that he’s on our team.”

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Eagles Secondary Learning While Having Fun

That 2014 Lions team lost to the Cowboys in the wild-card round (you can blame a few controversial calls). This Eagles team returns two starters (Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod) from their 2017 Super Bowl run, with a promising young corner (Avonte Maddox) poised to step in on the outside opposite Slay.

“Them boys been to the Super Bowl. I haven’t, so they know what it takes to get it done,” Slay said. “Me coming from Detroit and feeling that energy that they bring, out here at practice, it’s a different feeling.”

The last part seemed to be another subtle dig at Lions coach Matt Patricia for not creating an atmosphere conducive to winning in Detroit. Slay said it with a wry smile, as always. That goofy grin has become a calling card, perhaps part of a Joker-esque vibe, permeating the revamped Eagles’ secondary. In a good way.

“A lot of guys have different characteristics. Like me, for example, I’m a goofy guy who might not seem like I take everything seriously but I’m pretty serious,” Slay said. “I just happen to have a smile on my face. A smile can brighten up anybody’s expression, somebody could be having a bad day and me coming in with a great smile can just change somebody’s day.”

Slay has talked openly in recent weeks about Eagles players being “treated like grown men” and guys having the freedom to express themselves. Considering the short career spans for many NFL players, a football life is too short not to have fun.

“You don’t know what people go through while they are at work, so to come here and have freedom and be around your guys and the sport you love to do, you gotta enjoy it,” Slay said. “It’s a long ride, some guys are blessed to play 20 [years], some guys are blessed to play three … enjoy it the best way I can. Have fun. That’s what you need in the locker room. Teammates in the locker room there to support you.”

Slay’s Leadership Not ‘Talked About Enough’

Everyone you talk to about Slay mentions two things: his natural leadership and his ability to mentor younger players. It’s common knowledge that the 29-year-old is an elite cornerback in the NFL, so the two other traits really deserve more buzz.

“You know, being a leader and that’s what’s not talked about with him,” Eagles defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel said of Slay. “Showing the young guys, working with the wide receivers after practice, working on his craft. He doesn’t think I’m done at becoming the best player I can possibly be.”

He’s been spending extra time with Maddox trying to get him on the same page, working on drills in practice and looking at film after everyone leaves the building. He honestly wants his teammate to be “better than me.”

“I’m here to help you be a great player. I’m here to be your study guide,” Slay said when asked what he told Maddox. “Learn everything you can learn from me and go be the best player you can possibly be. I want him to be a better everything than me.”

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