Fairley better, but still with second unit
Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Nick Fairley "played better" in Friday's exhibition loss to the Oakland Raiders, but it's clear the defensive tackle has to do more to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff.
Fairley, a first-round pick in 2011, continued to practice with the second-team defense in practice Saturday, a demotion that began last Monday and led to C.J. Mosley starting in his place in a 27-26 loss Friday at the O.co Coliseum.
"The reason why is because of the fact that we thought C.J. was playing better," Caldwell said after the game. "So we put C.J. in his place, and we'll see how Nick played, make another comparison, and we'll see where we are next week."
The Lions practiced Saturday afternoon after returning from the west coast in the morning, but the initial review didn't put Fairley back with the starters.
Mosley made three tackles against the Raiders during his 20 snaps. Fairley had only one tackle during his 15 snaps, and it came on a 3-yard run by Darren McFadden in which Fairley was pushed off the line.
"He played better," Caldwell said. "He worked at it and we'll see how it goes this week. We continue to evaluate and it's not just a one-time evaluation.
"It's got to be a habit for all of our guys. Everybody operates at a standard that we think is a championship-level standard, and that's what we're looking for in every phase."
Caldwell has been more proactive with Fairley since taking over in January for Jim Schwartz. Last year Fairley played at a weight in excess of 320 pounds, but was down to 295 in May after sleep apnea surgery.
However, after reporting to training camp at 305 pounds, Fairley appears to have already added much of that weight back.
Fairley said the front office declining the fifth-year option on his rookie contract this offseason was motivation to improve in 2014. Fairley started 15 games last season, the most in his three seasons in Detroit, and although he had some stellar moments, he was inconsistent throughout the year.
Fairley has declined interviews since the demotion last week.
A nine-year veteran, Mosley signed a two-year deal with the Lions last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 21st-best tackle in the NFL last year, ranking 10 spots ahead of Fairley.
Caldwell has put an emphasis on holding all players to the same standard, and Fairley is the highest-profile player to be punished publicly so far. Fairley will play a significant role this year, whether or not he starts, so making sure he's giving 100 percent effort on and off the field during the preseason makes sense.
The question is when - or if - Fairley will come out of the doghouse.
--Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron flashed his big-play potential in Friday's 27-26 exhibition loss to the Oakland Raiders with two catches for 36 yards, but he and quarterback Matthew Stafford said one of them should have been a bigger play.
On Ebron's 23-yard reception, he had plenty of open space in front of him, but he fell to the ground trying to make the catch.
"I gave him some grief about that," Stafford said, laughing. "I told him maybe one day. He's getting there. This is a complex offense for tight ends. They move and line up in a lot of different areas, but when he had his opportunities tonight, he made some plays. So I was happy to see that."
Ebron agreed with Stafford's assessment, saying, "I should have" scored.
After a few months in the NFL, Ebron said he still has to perfect his chemistry with Stafford.
"It takes time," he said. "This is my first year. I'm not really in tune with Stafford yet. (It's the) preseason; that's what we're here for."
Still, his big play Friday showed that he's listening to Stafford's directions. Before the first offensive series, Stafford said there was a chance safety Charles Woodson would leave Ebron open, and that's what happened on his 23-yard catch.
"(Woodson) came down in the middle of the field on that looking to hunt up Reggie Bush underneath," Stafford said. "In that look, Ebron's probably not going to get the ball 95 percent of the time, but the five percent the guy comes down out of the middle of the field. He did a great job of staying alive, and I was able to shoot one on his back shoulder."
If Ebron starts making those catches in stride, he'll give the Lions' offense another dimension that could make it among the best in the NFL.
--Since entering the league, wide receiver Golden Tate has always tried to play bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame. And because he is short by league standards, Tate always plays with an edge.
"I guess that's just the little-man's syndrome in me," he said. "It's a big man's game, and I feel like the way I make my way is because I play so physical and I play bigger than I am.
"I can't tell you how many times I've gone out and met a group of people that said, 'Oh, I thought you were a lot bigger than you really are.' I take that as a compliment because I like to play this game like I'm 6-1, 6-2, especially being a receiver."
Despite his size, or lack thereof, Tate has an ability to play inside or outside, which is a big reason the Lions targeted him in free agency this year. He's also a physical blocker and difficult to bring down in space, ranking eighth among receivers last year with 520 yards after the catch.
"I guess just me being a running back in high school and having to deliver hits, run through the middle, really taught me how to play on the outside," he said. "Cornerbacks usually aren't as tough as the linebackers and safeties, so I kind of felt like I have an advantage after being groomed as a running back all my life until college."
Tate has been fined for two devastating blocks in his career, but he said that's one part of his game he still needs to fine tune.
"Honestly, I don't think I'm that great of a blocker, and there's been so many times that I've been called out in the film room for not blocking the way I should," he said. "I dial it up every now and then when I have to, and whenever they need me, I definitely get my blocks. But it's something I want to get better at."
--The Lions still don't have any clarity at kicker for the 2014 season. Nate Freese, a seventh-round pick, drilled a 55-yarder Friday night, but he also missed one of his two 33-yard extra points. Giorgio Tavecchio hit his only extra point and a 25-yard field goal.
Tavecchio praised Freese for his long field goal.
"He hit a fantastic ball," he said. "On the dirt, into the wind and with the rush like that, just a beautiful kick. ... Kudos to him for bouncing back and hitting a beautiful kick."
--Michael Williams, drafted in the seventh round as a tight end in 2013, played in his first game ever as an offensive lineman Friday with 20 snaps at left tackle. He missed last week's preseason game recovering from a minor injury.
"I felt real good," he said. "I had one mishap, but everything else went fine."
Williams understands that it will be difficult to make the roster, so he isn't concerned with what his role will be. He and undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas are likely battling for the final tackle spot.
"First I have to win a role," Williams said. "You have to just keep grinding and keep going to practice and keep getting better. And you let that part of it take care of itself."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The most important battle this week will be for the final two or three wide receiver spots.
Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and returner Jeremy Ross are locks, but the final spots on the roster are completely up in the air. Ryan Broyles has looked the best among his competitors and added two catches for 42 yards, including 32 yards after the catch on one play. Kevin Ogletree has been the most consistent and spent the most time with the first-team offense. Kris Durham caught a touchdown Friday, and Corey Fuller caught one last week. The battle should be tight, but if the Lions keep six receivers, they'll likely decide between Fuller and Durham for the last spot.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Drayton Florence had his contract terminated by the Lions Tuesday (Aug. 19).
--WR Calvin Johnson. The back-to-back-to-back All-Pro sat out the first two preseason games for precautionary reasons, but a report said he will play this week against Jacksonville. Johnson underwent knee and finger surgery in the offseason, so it's not worth the risk for him to play much in the exhibitions.
--S DeJon Gomes. The veteran suffered a neck injury during the game Friday on an ugly play in which he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Raiders tight end Scott Simonson. He participated in the team's walkthrough on Saturday.
--C Travis Swanson. The third-round pick once again led all offensive players with 42 snaps Friday. He played some snaps at left guard before moving to center, and he didn't have any snap issues like he did in the first preseason game when a low shotgun snap led to a lost fumble.
--RB George Winn. Winn replaced Theo Riddick on the starting special teams units. Riddick's spot is secure, but the Lions are clearly giving Winn a chance to earn a spot on the roster in his second NFL season after he bounced around between five teams as a rookie.
--LB Kyle Van Noy. The second-round pick led all defensive players with 35 snaps Friday and finished the game with two tackles. He had some time with the starters on the strong side as he and veteran Ashlee Palmer continue battling for the starting job.
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