Former first-round pick Nick Fairley is entering a crucial season for the Detroit Lions. The team declined a fifth-year option on the defensive tackle with the hope that he will dominate heading into the final year of his deal.
It hasn't worked out that way exactly. In fact, Fairley has been working mostly with the second-team defensive line in practice this week.
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MLive.com is reporting that for all the pleasure the Lions received in seeing Fairley drop 30 pounds at one point this summer, it has been undercut by the fact that he managed to put 10 of those pounds back on prior to training camp. As his weight remains up, his playing time, it appears, will be kept down.
At times in camp, Fairley has looked good. Others, not so much.
Fairley hasn't spoken to the media recently, but he hasn't — body-language alert here — looked too pleased to the onlookers at practice. Head coach Jim Caldwell has not been specific at all when it comes to explaining exactly why Fairley has been demoted, giving up his first-team snaps next to Ndamukong Suh to journeyman C.J. Mosley.
"You can take it as you like," Caldwell said, "however you like."
What we'd like to take from it is to point out that if Fairley is not next to Suh as the top two defensive tackles, it's not good news. Sure, the Lions could (again) be trying to light a small explosive underneath Fairley's apparently still-large backside, and maybe it will work. But motivational tactics this late in the process for Fairley, who is entering his fourth NFL season, look like a bit of a last-ditch effort.
It will be fairly telling to see how and when Fairley gets on the field in the Lions' preseason game Friday against the Oakland Raiders.
On a line that features Suh, there is the chance for fireworks. He reportedly has been trashing blocking schemes and playing at a level that's commensurate with a player who wants to cash in big time this coming offseason. But the rest of the group offers concern. Mosley is playing well, as is Devin Taylor as a surprise at one of the defensive end spots. Still, with Ziggy Ansah just returning to action, the Lions need as much firepower up front as they can muster.
Will Fairley ever provide it in Detroit? If this week's practice reps are any indication, there is tangible doubt about that happening the way the team envisioned when it made him the 13th pick in the 2011 draft — two picks following J.J. Watt and one before Robert Quinn was taken.
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