Darius Slay came to Philadelphia this offseason with three Pro Bowls under his belt and the lofty reputation as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
Slay has been billed as one of the true shutdown corners in the league and the first star the Eagles have had at the position since Asante Samuel nearly a decade ago. After all, the Eagles traded away draft picks and signed the 29-year-old to a $50 million contract for a reason.
So far, he’s been as good as advertised.
“He is, man,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “I didn’t get a chance to get a good look at him until now after he joined the team. And, man, he’s everything that I think we all envisioned him to be.
“He works hard, he’s probably one of the last guys off the field and then on the field, you feel his presence. He’s going to make us a better secondary because of it. Already making a lot of plays on the ball, interception I think first practice out. I’m excited and it helps me out a lot back there in the post having a guy like that who can take away half of the field.”
The Eagles have been in training camp for a while but they’re just three days in after their first padded practice. Truthfully, we haven’t really seen that greatness from Slay yet. But his teammates and coaches claim it’s there.
“We all know Slay,” Will Parks said. “Lock down, No. 1, follow your No. 1 all around the field. I think Slay has had a pretty good two days so far in practice, going out there and doing what he does best, locking down and doing the necessary things we need him to do to play defense for us.”
And they even claim there’s more with Slay that we don’t see.
New defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel said he’s been impressed with how coachable Slay has been. He picked up on that right way. Manuel had conversations with Slay the night he was traded and the next morning and found Slay’s insatiable appetite for football knowledge refreshing. Slay has been to three Pro Bowls, but he thinks he can still get better. For a coach, there’s nothing greater.
Then there’s the influence Slay is already having on a group of young cornerbacks with him in a totally revamped secondary.
“That’s what’s not talked about with him. A lot of guys don’t talk about that,” Manuel said. “Showing the young guys, working with the wide receivers after practice, working on his craft. Playing with the guys like Champ (Bailey) and (Charles) Woodson and the guys that I played with and now watching a guy who’s very elite at this position, he’s on his way. So it’s exciting, man.”
Anytime a corner gets mentioned in the same breath as two Hall of Fame-caliber players like Bailey and Woodson, it’s worth taking note. Manuel played with Bailey in Denver and Woodson in Green Bay. Bailey is already in the Canton and Woodson will likely join him next year when he gains eligibility.
Avonte Maddox, who is seemingly far in the lead to be the starter opposite Slay, said the two first conversed back in 2018 when Maddox was drafted. Maddox was a fan of Slay’s and grew up in Detroit, where Slay became an All-Pro. They DM’d each other on social media. Now, they’re teammates.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from Slay because he’s a great asset to me,” Maddox said. “Ever since he came in here he’s been willing to help me no matter what.”
Slay’s role with the Eagles in 2020 will obviously be an important one. For the first time in Jim Schwartz’s time as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, he’ll have a corner travel with the opposition’s top receiver. In recent seasons, he hasn’t done that, largely because he hadn’t had a corner worthy of the responsibility.
But Slay is worthy of that and he’s did it at a high level with the Lions.
If you’re wondering just how great Slay’s reputation is, just ask Carson Wentz. The Eagles quarterback said earlier this week that Slay is “a difference-maker” for the Eagles’ defense.
You better believe that opposing quarterbacks will know where Slay is lining up on every play this season.
“This is not his first rodeo,” Schwartz said. “He’s been a proven player in this league. He has a long track record.”
And so far — although it’s early — he’s living up to the hype.