NFC North: Nick Fairley

BAGSHOT, England – Nick Fairley doesn’t regret how he reached this point now that he’s playing the most consistent and best he has in his career. There are times, though, where he will let his mind percolate the possibilities of what might have been.

What could have happened if he had committed himself to being in shape sooner?

The fourth-year Detroit Lions defensive tackle knows why the question is asked, too. For the first three seasons of his career, Fairley was inconsistent and unable to stay on the field for long stretches, either because of being out of shape or injured.

His play yo-yoed between flashes of dominance and stretches of invisibility – a long way away from the dominant defensive lineman who helped Auburn win a national championship in 2010, becoming a first-round draft pick in 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley is in better shape and it's translated well to the field, as he's having his most consistent season.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Fairley said. “But I’m not trying to let it bother me. I’m just moving forward and I’ll put my best foot forward from here on out.”

In the past seven games, that foot has been a large reason why the Lions have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. While Ndamukong Suh often demands double-teams from opposing offensive linemen, teams now have to be more wary of Fairley.

Even though Fairley’s numbers are down from the past two seasons statistically (14 tackles, one sack this season), he has become a far better and more consistent player for the Lions in 2014. He is the No. 9 defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus – ranked sixth in rushing the passer and ninth against the run.

He’s becoming what general manager Martin Mayhew hoped when he declined Fairley’s option for a fifth season during the offseason, making him a free agent following this year.

“He’s playing well,” Mayhew said. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job working with him, teaching him the right way to go. His linemates, or teammates, have high expectations for him.

“He’s obviously taking the lead on getting his weight down and getting in better condition and hired a chef and helped with that process. I think Nick gets a lot of credit for that. I think it’s great what he’s doing and I’m glad he’s doing that and I want him to keep doing it.”

Mayhew talks with Fairley often about a gamut of things, but said not about his contract. Even though Fairley is having a good season, Mayhew said he is not talking about future contracts with anyone, including Suh and Fairley.

Fairley is at least doing what Mayhew hoped he would, so it puts him in the conversation for a contract if both players want it.

And with Fairley, there might be room to improve, too, as this is the first time in his career he has been playing with consistency. And even though he thinks about it, it doesn’t bother him he didn’t get into better shape sooner because he believes he is at the beginning of a long career.

“I can’t call how it would be,” Fairley said. “But I think I would be up there in the top [among defensive tackles], you know what I’m saying, be recognized a lot more.”

One of his biggest supporters – from the time he was struggling until now – has been the guy he lines up next to play after play, Suh.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be a dominant force in this league for many years to come,” Suh said. “I don’t expect anything less from him.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He has the talent to be better than me and he’s just got to continue to work and take care of business like he’s been.”
The Detroit Lions were down their top wide receiver, two of their top three tight ends and still had a hobbled running back in Reggie Bush.

And yet receiver Ryan Broyles still rarely stepped on the field against the New Orleans Saints.

Broyles
The former second-round pick actually saw six snaps Sunday -- the most he’s had all season -- but four of those plays were runs. He was not targeted, was barely used and clearly has no role in this offense now, even with injuries all over the place to skill-position players.

Only one offensive player -- sixth lineman Travis Swanson -- played fewer offensive snaps than Broyles, and Swanson had five of them.

The Lions stuck with a three-receiver base set most of the game, too, with Golden Tate in on 63 of 70 plays, Jeremy Ross on 62 of 70 plays and Corey Fuller on 62 of 70 plays. Then came Broyles, who barely filled in.

He plays a different position, but tight end Jordan Thompson, who was called up Saturday by the Lions, had double the snaps of Broyles (12) and was even targeted once (an interception that bounced off his hands to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro).

Considering the Lions are in a constant rotation of players and formations to try to gain an advantage on an opponent, the lack of usage for Broyles is pretty jarring.

He fought to make the team during training camp and has expressed both understanding and frustration about his usage before -- on Twitter last week and to ESPN last month.

But as the injuries to other players pile up and Broyles continues to remain on the bench, it is becoming more and more clear there just might not be much of a role for him on the Lions.

Other snap count notes for the Lions from Sunday:
  • Joique Bell saw the majority of the snaps at running back -- 52 for him and 18 for Bush. Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game it was “absolutely not” a benching when Bush sat for most of the second half and that Bush was still dealing with his ankle injury.
  • Nick Fairley played a season-high 47 snaps and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus also credited him with four hurries of Drew Brees.
  • In parsing the numbers for defensive alignments, the Lions went to their traditional nickel with Danny Gorrer on 30 of 74 plays, the base 4-3 with Ashlee Palmer on 17 snaps, the big nickel with Cassius Vaughn on 15 snaps and a third nickel package with Don Carey on 12 snaps. Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played one snap last week and was the initial big nickel back, played only special teams for 23 plays.
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes continues to get some run spelling Tahir Whitehead, as Bynes played 15 of 74 snaps but did not record a statistic. He is a core special teams player, too, so he’s carving out a role on this defense.
  • Once again, only backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t play, but these position players saw less than 10 combined snaps between offense, defense and special teams: Cornelius Lucas (four, special teams); Jerome Couplin (eight, special teams); Caraun Reid (eight, defense); and Broyles (six, offense).
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MINNEAPOLIS – Quarterbacks are taught to always keep their eyes downfield. Feel the pressure, but elude it and make the play.

Then these same quarterbacks run into the Detroit Lions defense, and something changes.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley and his cohorts on the Lions' defensive line made life tough for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“Recently, we have seen quarterbacks not even looking downfield,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “They are kind of taking their eyes off the receivers and looking at the rush. Whenever you can get in a quarterback’s head like that, it helps everybody.”

That type of pressure ended with eight sacks Sunday in a 17-3 victory over Minnesota – the most by a Lions team since Nov. 23, 1997 against Indianapolis. It led to 12 quarterback hits and a Minnesota offensive line that couldn’t protect its rookie quarterback and led Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to lament, “We physically got beat.”

It’s a pressure that allows Detroit’s linebackers and secondary to break on routes and to defend passes, such as the six they defended and three they intercepted Sunday, including two by Tahir Whitehead.

It’s a pressure that helps the Lions deal with a day when two offensive stars – Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush – were out and they missed two more field goals. No matter -- the Lions are 4-2 because of a defensive line that, when it plays well, can dominate.

“No one can stop us if we do our technique and assignments correct,” defensive tackle Nick Fairley said. “No one can score on us, no one can run the ball, no one can pass the ball. It’s up to us.

“We make teams, basically as a defense, we try to make it go on our terms.”

Those terms have stifled almost every opponent this season. No team has gained more than 350 yards on the Lions. Three teams have been held to less than 225 yards, including the Vikings, who gained 212 yards Sunday.

This starts with the defensive front. The pressure they provide flusters opposing quarterbacks and takes the pressure off the secondary – an issue that plagued the Lions last season.

“It helps us tremendously because we know if we cover early on in a down and just a little later, you know we’re going to get a coverage sack,” Whitehead said. “If we don’t get a coverage sack, we’re going to apply pressure and the ball is going to flow and maybe you get a pick.”

Consider what Bridgewater said Sunday, that “everything happens so fast for me.” He’s a rookie, so part of that is expected. When you’re facing the Lions, everything lately appears at warp speed. Aaron Rodgers, widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league, entered Sunday with his season-low in completion percentage (59.3) and QBR (47.7) against Detroit. So did Eli Manning.

Detroit’s defensive line won those two games. In them, they felt close to being able to do what they accomplished Sunday: Control another team. It’s a performance Lions coach Jim Caldwell called “smothering.”

“It’s important for them to be really strong at what they do,” Caldwell said. “Our defensive line creates so many problems because of the fact that they don’t allow you to run the ball consistently against us and then also they can put pressure on the passer.”

That was what Lions general manager Martin Mayhew envisioned when he drafted three of the four defensive line starters in the first round in 2010 (Ndamukong Suh), 2011 (Fairley) and 2013 (Ezekiel Ansah).

“Every game should be like this for this D-line we have now, you know what I’m saying,” Fairley said. “From the guys that are setting the edges and the guys in the middle, we have a D-line that can get after quarterback and any O-line.”

In almost every game this season, they have.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Nick Fairley is down to 300 pounds and enjoying the jambalaya his personal chef is making. More importantly for the Detroit Lions, he's playing as well as he has ever had.

Fairley
 This is the Fairley the Lions hoped to get when they drafted him in the first round in 2011, and this is the Fairley they hoped would show up when they declined his fifth-year option for next season, putting him in a contract year this season.

He’s turned into an anchor on the defensive line for Detroit, a player who commands attention even though he plays next to All-Pro Ndamukong Suh. Fairley is on pace to at least match his career-high in tackles (35 in 2012) with 11 stops through five games.

While he may not have the eye-popping statistics, Fairley has yet to miss a game -- only the second time in four years he has played in all of the first five games for the Lions. When he’s been in, he’s been effective.

He joins Suh as the only defensive players on Detroit to grade out positively in both run defense and pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus. His eight quarterback hurries, according to PFF, are fifth in the league among defensive tackles and second on the Lions behind Suh, who leads all defensive tackles with 13.

“He’s been really diligent in terms of taking care of himself and doing the things that we’ve asked him to do,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s got his weight down to where he’s most effective, I think. Not only that, he’s enjoying himself, and he’s having a very fine year.

“Active. Disruptive and really full of energy. We’ve been pleased with his progress.”

A lot of that has to do with his reduced weight -- something he says will likely never dip under around 300 pounds because of his own eating habits and his workouts. He’s been much smarter and more careful about what he’s eating -- hence the chef -- but he does admit he has cheat days with his diet.

All of this leads to the two biggest questions when it comes to Fairley. Can he keep it up? And how does this change his contract situation, especially with Suh’s uncertainty?

He said he’s not thinking about his contract at all, but when asked whether he feels he’s played well enough to earn a new deal, he paused.

“I will say my play has been more consistent,” Fairley said. “I’ll say that.”

That’s what the Detroit Lions have wanted all along.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson missed his first practice of the season with an ankle injury on Wednesday, but he is not yet concerned about missing Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

"I’m not concerned about it," Johnson said. "When those things happen, get in here and just work and work and work until things get right."

Johnson injured the ankle late during the Detroit Lions' 19-7 win over the Green Bay Packers. He didn't seem too concerned about the injury then, either.

Johnson
So far this season, Johnson has caught 19 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson played 14 games last season -- many of them with a busted-up finger and ailing knee, both of which required surgery after the season. He still caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns with the injuries.

Johnson was one of four Lions players to miss practice Wednesday, joining Travis Lewis (quad), Don Carey (hamstring) and Cassius Vaughn (ankle).

Five players -- including four starters -- were limited Wednesday: defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (knee), running back Joique Bell (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (bicep), fullback Montell Owens (hamstring) and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf).

In better news for Detroit, safety James Ihedigbo practiced fully for the first time this regular season as he recovers from a neck injury. Pay attention to his status Thursday. If he practices fully then, it could mean he will end up making his debut with the Lions on Sunday.
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DETROIT -- Each Saturday in the Detroit Lions' defensive line meeting, coaches Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek handed out a link to a chain.

There are, defensive tackle Nick Fairley said, 10 chain links. Each of the Lions’ 10 linemen then talks about what he will do the next day. After the exercise, the chain is put together. The next day it comes out onto the field with the Lions before the game.

If you’re looking for a strong link for this Detroit team, it resides with the defensive line. Injuries have decimated the secondary -- they played their fourth, fifth and sixth slot cornerbacks of the season Sunday -- and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch missed most of the game with a knee injury.

Yet the Detroit defensive line shut down Green Bay’s run and flustered Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throughout the Lions’ 19-7 win. It's a win where the defense actually outscored the Packers’ offense, 8-7.

That started with the defensive line.

"Every time in the defensive line room, man, our main thing is staying on gap and staying fundamental," Fairley said. "They are not going to be able to run the ball if we’re able to do that. If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we’re going to be able to stop the run ... nine times out of 10, that’s what we’re going to be able to do the whole year."

Through three games, Detroit has managed it well. The Lions entered the game with the stiffest run defense in the league, allowing 2.5 yards a carry. Gap integrity remained intact Sunday as the Lions allowed 3.5 yards a carry and picked up a safety on a run.

The first Detroit touchdown came off a Green Bay run, too. Eddie Lacy got the ball on the Packers’ second offensive play. Fairley moved into the gap between the Green Bay center and left guard. Lacy bounced to the 'B' gap between the guard and tackle. Fairley was stuck, but he was able to 'just put my arm out and was able to get my hands on the ball."

Lacy’s fumble led to a Don Carey touchdown and started a day for the Detroit defensive line that saw it produce three tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and the Fairley forced fumble. The line also helped put enough pressure on Rodgers to produce a career-worst performance against the Lions.

Detroit rushed its front four on 25 of Rodgers' 29 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Against that pressure, Rodgers completed just 58.3 percent of his passes for only 5.8 yards an attempt. That was possible because Detroit shut off the run.

"The plan was, basically, keep Aaron in the pocket, stop the run, and at least on the pass get in his face," defensive end Jason Jones said. "Make him uncomfortable back there."

Detroit gambled in trusting its front four. The Lions played both safeties high -- something Rodgers noticed quickly -- throughout the game. Rodgers said Green Bay never adjusted and did what Detroit wanted.

"We really took it as a challenge, playing two high safeties against them," Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "You kind of have to with how good a quarterback he is and how great of receivers he has. I think it’s kind of a risk-reward thing.

"You take the risk of maybe not being as tight in the run, but you’d rather Lacy have the ball than Aaron Rodgers. Not to knock Lacy, he’s a great running back, too, but we kind of put it on ourselves and stepped to the challenge."
The Detroit Lions will be without their third starting slot cornerback in as many weeks.

Cassius Vaughn, who was slated to take over for Nevin Lawson after he took over for Bill Bentley, is out Sunday against Green Bay with an ankle injury after missing practice Thursday and Friday.

He is one of three players ruled out for Detroit, joining linebacker Travis Lewis (quadriceps) and starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (calf). This is the second straight game Waddle has missed with the injury.

In Vaughn’s place, Detroit will do one of three things: Start recently-signed cornerback Danny Gorrer in the slot, start safety Don Carey in the slot or move outside cornerback Rashean Mathis into the slot, moving Gorrer to the outside.

The Lions also are planning to promote rookie cornerback Mohammed Seisay from the practice squad, according to his agent. Seisay was signed as an undrafted free agent from Nebraska.

Garrett Reynolds will likely start his second straight game at right tackle for Detroit.

The Lions’ secondary issues go beyond the slot corner. Safety James Ihedigbo is doubtful for the second straight game with a neck injury. Detroit’s biggest defensive free agent signing, Ihedigbo has yet to play a game this season.

Fullback Montell Owens, a special-teams stalwart, is also doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Starting defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah (knee) and Nick Fairley (biceps) are questionable, along with rotational defensive end George Johnson (groin).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions still have a week to go until they open the season against the New York Giants, but they have slowly begun preparing for the team that knocked them out of playoff contention last season.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said practices Monday and Tuesday would be more focused on improving things they need to work on instead of game-planning, but that they might sneak some things into preparation as well.

Here's other things from Monday's open portion of practice:
  • Safeties James Ihedigbo (undisclosed) and Don Carey (hamstring) sat out practice along with linebacker Kyle Van Noy (abdominal). All three were out there and Van Noy appeared to be moving OK for having had core muscle surgery less than a week ago.
  • Nick Fairley took some reps with Ndamukong Suh during position drills, but so did C.J. Mosley. Mosley started the last two preseason games at tackle. Fairley is listed as first on the depth chart.
  • Also at practice but not participating was wide receiver TJ Jones, who is on the PUP list.
  • New numbers: Mohammed Seisay is now wearing No. 39, Jerome Couplin is No. 24 and George Johnson is No. 93.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Monday afternoon, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he would not speak on who some of his starters were until the team released a depth chart.

The Lions have done that, and potentially revealed some opening-game starters. This, however, remains an unofficial depth chart that the Lions media relations staff puts together, not one given out by the coaching staff.

Here are some of the notable things:
 

Lions Camp Report: Day 15

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
7:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions ended their camp Saturday afternoon with a practice that lasted a little less than one hour with no pads at all and a lot of players in baseball caps catching passes -- including specialists Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach. Why would Lions coach Jim Caldwell bring the players out there less than 12 hours after they returned from a West Coast trip to Oakland?
    “The practice was kind of to break a sweat and often times guys find out they have an injury that they didn’t know about,” Caldwell said. “So we run them a little bit, loosen it up a little and go through our corrections and get them off the field to get them some rest tomorrow and get back at it at Monday.”
  • Once Monday hits, the Lions will go into their regular practice mode, which also means practices are also no longer fully open to reporters. He also did this Saturday practice to give players an idea of how days go with evaluation and film.
  • The biggest topic again was defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who seemed more jovial Saturday than he was at any point last week. That’s probably a good sign for him and Caldwell indicated he felt he had improved during Friday night’s game against Oakland.
  • Detroit did have a transaction Saturday, signing linebacker Shamari Benton out of Central Michigan and releasing linebacker Justin Jackson from Wake Forest. Benton had 111 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss, last season for the Chippewas. He also had four sacks and an interception. He apparently trained at a gym in suburban Detroit co-owned by Tony Scheffler and Ndamukong Suh. He was so new, the Lions didn't even have a jersey for him at practice Saturday.
  • Caldwell also appeared to be pleased with backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, saying he “demonstrated that [Friday] night, but we still have two more games to go.” Orlovsky was markedly better than he was in the preseason opener, when he was outplayed by No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore. He appeared to regain his hold on the backup spot with his performance Friday night. Part of the backup quarterback’s job, Caldwell said, is to be a collaborator with starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
  • Asked three of the Lions players who attended Notre Dame (there are five in all as Alex Bullard and Joseph Fauria started at the school and transferred to Tennessee and UCLA, respectively) about the academic investigation at their alma mater. TJ Jones said he knew little about it and wanted to hear more details. Theo Riddick declined to comment, but said he would speak with Notre Dame if the school reached out. Golden Tate, who did not play under current coach Brian Kelly, declined to comment.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Jim Caldwell wasn’t ready to comment on defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the moments following the Detroit Lions preseason loss to the Oakland Raiders on Friday night.

After watching the game on film, he felt Fairley played better -- although he wouldn’t say better than what or when.

Fairley
“Yeah, he played better,” Caldwell said. “He worked in and we’ll see how he goes this week. So we continue to evaluate. It’s not just a one-time evaluation, obviously, it’s not just one game.

“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.”

Fairley had one tackle against the Raiders working with both the first and second teams behind C.J. Mosley. Caldwell said any evaluation of Fairley will go beyond just his work on the field either in games or in practice.

It will encompass everything -- something he hinted at earlier this week when he said Fairley is trying to find a comfortable weight. What that weight is remains unknown, and Fairley again declined to talk with the media on Saturday, offering his typical “not today.”

“When we are evaluating, we look at everything,” Caldwell said. “Things on the field, off the field, meeting rooms, weight room, those are all part of obviously getting yourself in the best possible position to play and play well. So yes, we do look at every single thing.”
Nick Fairley recorded one tackle Friday night but the defensive tackle who lost his starting spot was otherwise somewhat ineffective against the Oakland Raiders.

Fairley
And after the game, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell was not ready to assess his performance.

“I’m not going to comment on his performance tonight because I have to look at the film and see, “Caldwell told reporters after a 27-26 loss to the Raiders. “Where he plays down in the trenches is very difficult to tell exactly. The reason why is because of the fact that we thought C.J. [Mosley]was playing better.

“We put C.J. in place and we’ll see how Nick played and make another comparison and see where we go next week, but that was the reason why.”

Mosley responded well. He had three tackles, more than any other defensive lineman, and he plugged the middle of the defensive line well along with Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, Fairley ended up being pushed off the ball often during his time against the Raiders facing mostly their first unit.

As for the future, it is unclear how the Lions will proceed from here out as Detroit preps for Jacksonville next Friday. One thing is certain, though: Fairley won’t get any special treatment.

“There’s a certain standard that we’re looking for,” Caldwell said, “and everybody’s got to measure up and him included.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been in this league a while now and knows the messages that can be sent and the motivational tactics that can be used. So C.J. Mosley doesn’t really get affected by the ins and outs of training camp or practice weeks.

He’s 10 years into a career as a defensive tackle and his mantra is simple: They tell him to go in, he plays. They don’t, he doesn’t. Everything else is ancillary.

So his somewhat sudden promotion to the Lions' starting defense this week in practice in place of Nick Fairley hasn’t really changed him. He just keeps on doing what he’s always done.

[+] EnlargeC. J. Mosley
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBeing thrust into the starting lineup hasn't changed C.J. Mosley's approach.
“It hasn’t been any different for me,” Mosley said. “My approach has been the same. It’s my 1oth year so nothing is going to happen in this business that’s going to shock me. I’ve seen pretty much everything you could see out of this.”

What he is seeing now is the Detroit Lions trying to motivate Fairley, the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle, into finally reaching his potential. It had appeared the team had finally figured out a way to really push him when it declined his fifth-year option during the offseason, placing him in a contract year.

Fairley showed up during the spring under 300 pounds and then came to training camp an acceptable 305 pounds. Three weeks later, Fairley’s weight appears to be an issue again and his play has once again become inconsistent. Fairley has yet to play 16 games in a season. He had a career-high six sacks last season, but three of them came in two games against Minnesota.

Here enters Mosley, the consistent veteran with a strong work ethic and a player the Lions know will provide strong effort every play, even if he doesn’t possess some of the natural gifts Fairley has.

The former sixth-round pick knows not to read too much into anything. He’s the definition of an NFL journeyman. The Lions are his fifth NFL team. He’s played in 114 games, made 162 tackles and notched 11.5 sacks in that career.

Mosley has performed well this camp. He has been a presence plugging the middle during practice and while he didn’t make any plays during the preseason opener against Cleveland on Saturday, he knows there is another opportunity Friday night at Oakland. He’ll probably see a good amount of snaps.

“I feel good,” Mosley said. “I’ve got a great bunch of core guys with me. Our coaches are freaking awesome. They make practice interesting every day. It can get quite repetitive but they make practice interesting every day and it’s always competitive.

“For guys that love competing, that’s what we live for.”

Mosley has proved that. So has his fellow defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, who is one of toughest competitors on the Lions. It also appears to be the message the Lions are sending to Fairley with this potentially temporary demotion.

Compete, or possibly lose your spot. Heading toward the start of a contract season in a few weeks, the Lions are hoping this is what pushes Fairley to finally reach his potential. Otherwise, Mosley will be his consistent self and play his way into a larger role.

Lions Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:15
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Nick Fairley Watch – Day 3: The defensive tackle remained with the second unit throughout practice Wednesday, potentially signifying he won’t be used as a starter Friday night in Oakland. C.J. Mosley again ran with the first group and continued to play well alongside usual starter Ndamukong Suh. There were also points – much as in previous days – when Jason Jones moved from end inside to tackle with the first group. Still don’t expect things to stay this way permanently – Fairley is too talented to not be a starter at some point – but there is absolutely a message being sent here with each day Fairley doesn’t line up with the starters. He also, as he has done Monday and Tuesday, declined to talk with the media after practice to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, Mosley continues to go about his business every day during practice.
  • The other defensive lineman of note, Ezekiel Ansah, practiced again Wednesday but remains limited as he works his way into the rotation. At this point, Ansah is participating in everything other than team and heavy-contact portions of practice, but that should be expected. “His progression is going to be gradual. It’s not like you come off [the physically unable to perform list] and go right to work and get banged around in here,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “This game is a bit too strenuous for that. We’re going to bring him along and make certain he gets enough work, and as soon as doctors say he is able to go full-speed, all-out, we’re going to turn him loose.”
  • Another interesting caveat of the past two days has been at safety. James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin are running with the starters, but behind them, the pairing of Jerome Couplin and Isa Abdul-Quddus has been playing consistently with the No. 2 group, and Don Carey and DeJon Gomes have been with the No. 3 unit. More than likely, this is to give Couplin and Abdul-Quddus, both of whom were brought in during the offseason, a longer look as cut days start to loom. Abdul-Quddus played more snaps than any other defensive player Saturday night and had an interception. Couplin has been among the more impressive undrafted rookie free agents and has already gained the reputation as a player who can hit. He has rebounded well since being flattened by George Winn in practice a little under a week ago.
  • Speaking of Winn, if you’re looking for a complete surprise to make the roster, he is gaining some steam to do it. He briefly saw time as a blocker on what appeared to be the first-team kick return unit Wednesday and continues to run at a strong, hard pace. Other than his fumble against the Browns on Saturday, he has had a real strong camp and while he still has a lot of players to pass, he is at least giving himself a shot.
  • The most interesting hit of the day came during a team period, when safety James Ihedigbo stepped up on a route over the middle and broke up a pass intended for Kris Durham, timing the hit perfectly and sending Durham to the ground. Ihedigbo has been one of the harder hitters during camp and that is part of why the Lions brought him in to replace Louis Delmas in the offseason.
  • Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. was at practice Wednesday. The team ownership, between Bill Ford Jr. and his mother, Martha Ford, have been at practice often during camp but have not spoken publicly with the media yet.
  • Caldwell took the ALS challenge laid down for him by Golden Tate after practice Wednesday. The video lives here.
  • The Lions are off Thursday to travel to Oakland, where they play the Raiders on Friday night. The Lions next practice Saturday in Allen Park, Michigan. It will be a closed practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 13

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
12:10
AM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp.
  • The news of the day arrived before practice, when defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was pulled off the PUP list and returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday evening. He didn’t fully participate and was not expected to, but he looked fairly strong during individual drills, pushing the sled with some gusto. He appeared happy to be back as well, and he’ll be eased into this since the Lions have a few weeks before their first regular-season game against the New York Giants. He’ll likely get some work during a preseason game, but it won’t be Friday as he’s already been ruled out. Right guard Larry Warford, who missed practice Monday, also returned Tuesday.
  • The other major defensive line storyline revolved around defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who played with the second unit for the second consecutive practice. Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley took the first-team reps at tackle throughout the practice, including during 11-on-11 periods. When Mosley wasn’t in, Jason Jones moved inside to take some reps at tackle. Fairley worked with Andre Fluellen and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen on the second unit a bunch Tuesday night and didn’t look all that impressive. In one-on-one drills with offensive linemen, he was blocked well once by Rodney Austin, but Fairley annihilated Austin the next time the two faced each other.
  • Mosley, meanwhile, looked good with the first unit. He plugged the middle of the line well and didn’t lose any rushers when they came near him. In all, the first-team defensive line had another really strong performance against the first-team offensive line. Suh continues to look like his dominant self and Devin Taylor is getting better coming off the edge. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ansah returns to full strength and Taylor is truly competing with Jones for the closed end starting spot.
  • Continuing with the defensive line theme here, Larry Webster had the hit of the practice, running right through Michael Williams to end the one-on-one drills. Webster said after that he just “worked one of my moves, converted speed to power.” It was enough to completely flatten Williams, who is transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle during this camp.
  • The night practice was Jim Caldwell’s idea as part of trying to prepare his players for all situations, including potential night games like the one Detroit will play Friday at Oakland. He also did it because there is always the possibility the team could end up having a flexed game at some point during the season.

    “It’s very, very important to get your team as many opportunities as you can to get ready for challenges that they may face and this is the time to do it, during training camp,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have the luxury during the regular season, we usually practice at a set time and typically not at night, so this is a time where you can adjust your schedule, move it around quite a bit. It’s not the normal routine, so it makes them adjust. I like the fact that they have to adjust.”
  • More on this Wednesday morning, but Golden Tate participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge after practice. He also said the Lions offense received Shinola watches for beating the defense in a team bowling competition Monday night, but didn’t know who footed the bill for it.
  • The Lions return to practice Wednesday at 2 p.m., the final practice open to the public this season.

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