Darius Slay improves game by studying NFL's top corners

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Darius Slay made a jump from being an inconsistent reserve cornerback as a rookie for the Detroit Lions to a promising starter in his second season.

As he's grown, Slay has never lacked confidence. His demeanor complements that. He sometimes talks so fast, it can be hard to follow what he's saying. His instincts move just as quick on the field, where he is hoping to make another jump from a promising starter to a lockdown corner in his third season.

To do this, he has spent time studying some of the best corners in the NFL.

"I gotta study [Darrelle] Revis and Joe [Haden]," Slay said. "They are more my type of corner, more in your face, try to travel guys, follow you wherever you want to go. Just trying to take [the] best player out of the game.

"I look at [Richard] Sherman, too, just because his ball skills, he's probably got the best ball skills in the NFL that I've seen in my past years. If the ball's in the air, he's getting it. Other than that, I love to watch Revis and Joe."

This is on top of advice he receives from his own veterans: Cornerback Rashean Mathis and safeties James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin. Slay and Quin have adjoining lockers. Recently, Quin told him he looked at Slay's combine numbers and that he felt no one could run past him.

That gave Slay, who doesn't lack for confidence, even more of it.

"He said so much, like me being one of the dominant corners in the league and he just sat there and talked for like 30 minutes about that," Slay said. "It really sunk in to me and just let me know that I could be really good."

It's also why he focused on watching the best. Slay picking those three non-Lions is not surprising. Revis is, along with Sherman, considered the best corner in the league. Sherman has the combination of swagger and production Slay would like to reach. And Haden, well, since Slay has been a rookie he has a mild obsession with Haden.

Haden is his favorite player. They exchanged jerseys after the Cleveland Browns played Detroit during Slay's rookie season in 2013. He even dresses somewhat like him on the field, adding an arm sleeve to how he dresses on the field.

"Not until the season, baby," Slay said. "You'll see the arm sleeve, the Joe sleeve. We'll call it the Joe Slay. We'll give him the first name because he started it. Joe Slay it."

While neither Slay nor Haden are the first players in the NFL to wear arm sleeves, Slay is big on naming things. One thing he's trying to take as his own is his finger wag after interceptions and pass breakups.

"I got the finger wag," Slay said. "Now if [Haden] steals my finger wag, it'll be Slay [first]."

Except that Slay borrowed the finger wag from Dikembe Mutombo, who used to wag his long fingers at opponents after blocking their shots. When Slay was reminded of this -- last season he said he first saw it on a commercial with Mutombo and then intimidated his not-in-my-house booming voice -- he mocked surprise.

Then he explained how he is going to commandeer it for his sport.

"Whaaaatttt," Slay said. "Nobody do it in football, so I'm first in football."

This is merely the first thing Slay wants to be first in during his career. Next would be to be considered among the first tier of cornerbacks in the NFL, something another strong season could push him toward.