Camp notes: Slay holds his own and Rugland's 58-yarder
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Sure, he’s gotten burned by Calvin Johnson. What rookie wouldn’t? What human being wouldn’t?
Darius Slay, a second-round draft pick who is competing for a starting job in the Detroit Lions’ secondary, also has been making plays and holding his own throughout the first four days of training camp.
Slay is the latest addition in a concerted effort by the Lions to add youth, size and athleticism at cornerback, a position that has been a weak link for the defense for many years.
The good news for Slay is that he probably won’t face anybody better for the rest of his career.
“He humbles me,” Slay, who is 6-foot, 192 pounds, said of defending the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson. “I love that aspect, how he competes. He competes every time. That’s my goal -- to compete. I love going against him one-on-one. I’d like to go against him every day.
“I’ve always been that type. I want to play against the best for me to get better. Going against him, only thing you could do is get better. You’re going to learn from your mistakes. For me to go against him and get better every day is a blessing.”
This potential turnaround at cornerback for the Lions started last year when they selected three corners -- Bill Bentley (third round), Chris Greenwood (fifth round) and Jonte Green (sixth round) -- in the NFL Draft.
Bentley (shoulder) and Greenwood (abdominal) were injured much of last season, but they’re in the mix now, trying to earn playing time.
Slay and Bentley have been getting reps with the first-team defense at times early in camp. Green and Greenwood (sore hamstrings) both missed Monday’s practice, as did eight-year veteran Ron Bartell (shoulder).
“Healthy, this is the best group of corners that we’ve had,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’ve seen some good flashes from some young players like Slay and Bill Bentley. But the proof is going to be over the course of time.”
Receiver Nate Burleson has noticed a difference.
“They’re getting their hands on a lot of balls,” Burleson said. “There were times in years past where we would just go weeks and they wouldn’t get their hands on a ball, they wouldn’t get interceptions. It’s a lot different now.”
Whether the youngsters can handle the game-day pressure – with opponents targeting them because of their inexperience – will be a crucial factor as the Lions try to improve their defense.
Chris Houston, the team’s No. 1 cornerback, appreciates the difficulty of being young and trying to play such a difficult position, where one miscue means a touchdown for the opponent.
“Everything’s going at 1,000 mph,” Houston said. “I know what Slay’s going through, trying to learn the technique that’s different from what he learned in college, and going against Calvin every day.
“He’s seeing a lot, but he’ll be all right. That’s how it is, growing pains, he’ll get through them and he’ll be a good corner.”
The Lions’ secondary was a revolving door last season, mainly because of injuries but also because they didn’t have a solid core group.
“We had a lot of rotating cornerbacks, coming off the street and playing right before the season starts,” Houston said. “We’ve got a set group of cornerbacks now. It can be a strength.
“We’ve got a lot of bigger guys, speed guys, a lot of athleticism back there. We’re kind of young. We’ll see when the preseason games roll around, throw them in the fire and see who comes out on top.”
Havard “Kickalicious” Rugland, the Youtube sensation, kicked a 58-yard field goal during Monday's team drills.
“It’s not just hitting one 58-yarder, it’s being consistent,” Schwartz said. “He certainly has the talent to do it. He’s getting better every day. He’s like some of those baseball players who don’t swing real hard but the ball jumps off their bat. That’s sort of the leg he has. He just sort of takes a nice, easy swing and he’s got plenty of leg to hit anything on the field.”
Veteran David Akers, who is coming back from a groin injury that led to his poor performance last season with San Francisco, remains the odds-on favorite to be the Lions' No. 1 kicker.
Offensive guard Leroy Harris, recovering from knee surgery last November, was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and practiced for the first time.
Defensive end Jason Jones took the day off to rest a sore knee.