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Meet 'The Three Amigos' -- a.k.a. the Detroit Lions starting cornerbacks

Lions cornerback Darius Slay spends a lot of time with teammates Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs. "We The Three Amigos," he said. Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The phrase came barreling out of Darius Slay's mouth this summer, almost like a stream-of-consciousness thing that so often happens with the Detroit Lions cornerback.

He was describing his relationship with cornerbacks Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs, and in doing so he kind of game them a nickname.

“We a young group, man,” Slay said. “We just be chillin’, hangin’ with each other. The veteran guys, they hang with each other. Me, Quandre and Nevo, we The Three Amigos.

“We The Three Amigos.”

And depending on how the Lions play this year, that moniker has a chance to stick -- even if Lawson said the first time he heard it was when a reporter asked him about it.

They wouldn’t be the first group to have the nickname. In the NFL, Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel were dubbed with the name in Denver in the 1980s. In popular culture, “The Three Amigos” is synonymous with the Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short cult classic that lives on 20 years after it was made.

But it is an apt description. The amount of time spent together on the field, in meeting rooms and then in a group text that they estimate might have thousands of messages by now led Lawson to describe the three of them as “brothers.”

And they are critical to Detroit this season. If the Lions are going to have success, it’ll be in part due to the group growth of the Amigos, otherwise known as Detroit's starting cornerbacks. Sure, they don’t always play next to each other -- although both Slay and Lawson will play on the same side as Diggs since he’s the slot corner -- but the communication level the three have is vital.

It’s cultivated those text messages and constant ragging on each other, be it for some of Slay’s tweeting, basketball, video games or anything else. And while their interactions often don't have to do with football, the off-field connection has shown up when they’ve had to start practicing.

“We just know,” Lawson said. “For instance, certain plays, Quandre being on the inside, he’ll warn me, ‘Hey, if they do this, we’ll go this certain formation.’ Sometimes he sees it before I see it and he gives me a heads up.”

Off the field, their text chain is ongoing. They estimate it is in the thousands of messages by now. It is how they decompress and stay connected, even when they are in other parts of the country. During the offseason, the three would be in constant contact, checking up on each other’s workouts and comparing notes.

“That’s how you learn,” Diggs said. “To see if each other’s working or not.”

That was a non-issue this offseason, as all three continuously explained what they were doing to get ready for a 2016 season where all three will play major roles in the defense.

Slay is the shutdown corner, the boisterous playmaker who has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Lawson is the more serious one -- Diggs equated him to a “pitbull” because when they put him on a receiver, he’s going to go at him. Diggs, well, he seems to be a combination of both -- serious on the field but dancing and joking around before games to keep himself loose.

But combined, it works.

“When you’re super cool off the field and you hang out on and off the field, you end up getting in a conversation talking about certain things and then football comes up,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “And you talk about how you really feel. You talk about the plays you really like, the ones you don’t like, the things that you like to do. The things that you don’t like to do.

“It’s informal conversation off the field, but when you get on the field, you still know those guys. You know more about the guy, what he likes to do and what he don’t like to do and you play well together.”

Quin had that in Detroit with Rashean Mathis and James Ihedigbo. But with the retirement of Mathis and the departure of Ihedigbo, Quin became the old guy in the defensive-back room this offseason. He’s the only defensive back in his 30s -- he’s 30 -- but he doesn’t mind the youthful excitement the “Amigos” bring. It keeps him entertained to a point. And he believes it’s helpful for the defensive backs.

“You need some young energy. You need some older guy that can hone it in when it’s time to hone in, but you need younger guys that keep it lively,” Quin said. “And so I like it. But like I said, I try to let guys know when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.

“When it’s time to play, let’s have fun.”

If the Amigos play up to their capabilities this season, work and fun might end up being one and the same.