In Detroit, well, let's say it wasn't exactly the best of times for cornerback Darius Slay. He achieved high honors – named to the most recent three Pro Bowls, recognition as one of the best at his position in the game, universally well-liked and respected around the league – but the wins just weren't there. The playoff appearances? Twice in Slay's time there – 2014 and 2016 – the Lions reached the postseason as a Wild Card team, and both times they lost.
Now he's an Eagle and, of course, reaching the postseason is only one step of a goal that is, annually, to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia. The Eagles have one Lombardi Trophy safely ensconced in a display case at the NovaCare Complex, but there is room for more.
Making a trade to acquire Slay from the Lions in March was done with that very idea in mind. Slay is a shutdown corner in a league that has few. He's going to, for varying lengths of time during a particular week this season, shadow the best opposing wide receiver on the other team. It's something he does. The greats are like that. Having Slay, with his Big Play game and his equally outgoing personality, upgrades the Eagles' defense in a large way.
For Slay, being in Philadelphia has been energizing, invigorating, and fun.
That's the way he likes it, uh huh uh huh.
"It feels ways different than Detroit. It's a big, big difference," Slay said when asked if he felt the difference between Detroit and Philadelphia. "The feeling. The vibe. From the head man down to the equipment staff, it's a different feeling. And I like the feeling that they have. They let you be yourself. They let you be who you are.
"I'm excited for a new start, a new journey, a new team. A new color. Green is my favorite color. I'm looking forward to it."
There is a large part of me that thinks the offense is more "plug-and-play ready" for 2020 than is the defense. There are fewer changes in the offense – other than left tackle Andre Dillard, who started three games there last season, anyway, and moving veteran Jason Peters from left tackle to right guard – what's really new about the offense from a personnel standpoint? The offense, all things considered, is ready to go – understanding, of course that wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson must demonstrate that they are healthy and on track to impact against Washington on September 13.
The defense? Not so much. At least that has been the thinking. But then you get to talking to Slay and fellow cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, another veteran addition, and you understand that both have been in the NFL long enough to know what it takes to prepare for a season, even with a new team. They've had all of the spring and the first couple of weeks of Training Camp – "acclimation periods," head coach Doug Pederson calls what the Eagles are doing now – to get their mental reps and really, really, truly digest the concepts of the way Jim Schwartz does things.
The "fitting-in" part of the equation is over. The veterans are comfortable in the defense. The talent level has undeniably been upgraded with those two and Will Parks in the secondary and with Javon Hargrave signing in free agency to strengthen the defensive tackle group and with Vinny Curry – five quarterback sacks, a team-best (tied with Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox) 34 quarterback pressure/hits in 2019 – returning to add depth on the edge.
So, maybe the learning curve on defense is going to be shorter than expected. Schwartz has a way of simplifying things and letting his players get after it. That's what they all want to do, anyway. Go get the football. It's an aggressive, downhill mentality.
And, really, it is exactly as Slay described it.
"There's so much energy here, that's the thing," Robey-Coleman said. "Everybody is working hard and is upbeat about it. They're used to winning around here. That is something that is very obvious when you walk into this building."
If you were worried about "chemistry" or "leadership" on a defense that lost a lot of both when Malcolm Jenkins moved on in the offseason, maybe you can move on from that narrative. The Eagles have bonded during the virtual offseason and now through this "trust" portion of camp.
The focus is on winning. It all. Slay talks about entering the building, seeing the Lombardi Trophy, and "having a moment" with it.
"I was like, I need one," he said. "I'd love to feel that confetti fall on me."