July 31, 2020
Over his career, new Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has prided himself on following the best receiver on the opposing offense, no matter their size, speed, skill set, or whether they play inside or outside.
In his four years as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz hasn't often asked any particular corner to follow a specific receiver, mainly because he hasn't had a corner as good as Slay, but also because it then becomes more difficult to disguise man vs. zone coverages when you do that.
So, will Schwartz allow Slay to follow opposing receivers in 2020? He gave a thorough answer to that question on Friday, so we'll just let him take it away.
"Over the last couple years we've taken a lot of strides to try to avoid the tells on our defense, whether it was man or zone. It really started like the week after the Super Bowl when we started meeting before the 2018 season," Schwartz said. "We saw where people were going with man routes and pick routes and things like that and said, 'Okay we're tired of complaining to the officials that we got picked' or, 'That was offensive pass interference,' so we needed to mitigate it ourselves. We needed to combat it in different ways.
"One of the ways we did that, is we didn't always have corners go over, and we tried to let guys play inside and outside. It helped us that we had safeties like Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, both whom were corners in the past. That flexibility went a long way. And so, there is that, but when you acquire a player like Slay, who has that skill set, and can match a receiver, it adds a different layer to it. So now, guys who play nickel are going to need to be able to play outside corner also, because every time Slay lines up at the nickel position, it's just too easy a tell if the only time he's in there is man-to-man.
"So, I don't know that it's going to be a 100 percent, all-the-time thing. Maybe it's a particular game. Maybe it's 50 percent of the games. Maybe it's 75 percent of the games that Slay is matching a particular receiver, but you will see that from our defense.
"And in order to do that, it's not just on Slay to know inside and outside, which we have a very good comfort level with, and feel like he can do that. But now it's going to make all of your corners, your safeties, and your nickels have to be just a little bit more multi-dimensional. If Slay lines up at the nickel, the nickel needs to be able to line up at the outside corner, and you need to be able to play man, and zone, and blitz from that same look.
"It's something we'll get ready for in training camp. We'll probably just let him pick a guy in the huddle because we really won't know who the offense will have out there, but pick a guy, and practice it. And then it'll just be a game plan decision on a weekly basis. You know, number one, if it's a who. And then number two, if we're going to match that week. And we'll sort of play it from there.
"We're really excited about having him. You know I had Stephon Gilmore, early in his career in Buffalo. Steph matched everybody last year with the Patriots. He's an All-Pro player, and fantastic. He wasn't ready for that early in his career when I was with him in Buffalo.
"But, you know, Slay is a guy that is sort of at the same point. He has done a lot of that in the past, and that won't be anything new for him, and I'm really excited to have him. I think it's going to add a different dimension to our secondary."