NFC North: Nick Fairley

Lions Camp Report: Day 15

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
7:00
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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.

Lions Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The biggest news of the day, as covered here earlier, is Nick Fairley appearing to run with the second team. Fairley wouldn't talk about it. Jim Caldwell said it wasn't necessarily the second team -- although any defensive unit without Ndamukong Suh is likely not the first group -- and Fairley's replacement, C.J. Mosley, was pretty buttoned up in his answers. The one obvious thing was Fairley did not appear happy after practice. Considering how much attention was paid to him during the offseason and the team did not pick up his contract, this has to be at least a mildly discouraging sign for the Lions and something worth monitoring. Also worth monitoring -- Fairley's weight. He doesn't look quite as svelte as he did during the spring. The Lions are going to need him to be successful this season, there is not much question about that.
  • In non-Fairley news, Detroit added music to its practice Monday afternoon to help prepare for crowd noise as the Lions head to Oakland for their second preseason game Friday. There wasn't a ton of it -- three songs including what sounded like “Planet Rock,” the 1982 classic by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force. Caldwell said the players are allowed to submit playlists for practice with one caveat: No profanity. “Obviously it creates some distraction for you. We were trying to do the same thing basically with the music,” Caldwell said. “One day here we had a Motown session. We have different music to try and accomplish the same thing. What we're trying to do is simulate crowd noise so they can't hear. They have to communicate a lot louder with one another. If it happens to be something that they like, they tend to catch the rhythm of it. But some things, obviously, I'm not quite certain what songs they were.”
  • Matthew Stafford's interception-free streak during training camp ended with a thud of the hands Monday afternoon, as a ball from Stafford tipped off the hands of Brandon Pettigrew and right into the waiting arms of cornerback Bill Bentley, who might have had a pick-six had the Lions been wearing pads. The play was immediately followed up by another interception, this one from Dan Orlovsky that tipped off a leaping receiver's hands.
  • Ryan Broyles had the offensive play of the day, jumping in the air to catch a ball thrown by Orlovsky. It showed just how much better Broyles feels now than a season ago, when he was still rehabilitating his torn ACL. Talked with Broyles a bit after practice about his mindset and where he is right now, so look for that Tuesday.
  • There were some new faces missing from Lions' practice Monday. Larry Warford was not at practice at all -- and MLive reported it is an illness. I did not spot Ezekiel Ansah at practice. He may have been there, but the media's angle during indoor practices cuts off part of the closer sideline. He remains on the active PUP list. TJ Jones also remains on the active PUP list. Don Carey missed practice as well. When asked why he was out he said, “Everything's everything, baby. I'll talk to y'all later.”
  • Actor Jeff Daniels showed up at practice Monday.
  • The Lions return to practice Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET for a practice closed to the public but open to invited guests.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- C.J. Mosley was standing there late Monday afternoon, almost marveling at what his teammate, Ndamukong Suh, had accomplished during the offseason. It had nothing to do with his contract with the Detroit Lions, but the way Suh takes care of himself.

Then, a massive arm wrapped around Mosley. It was Suh, giving his fellow defensive tackle a hug, asking what he was doing and then telling him he loved him. On a day when Suh's stalled and tabled contract talks overshadowed the start of the team's training camp, Suh seemed unbothered by it.

He practiced as usual. He hugged his teammates. When a spectator asked if he could take a picture of him, Suh instead asked if he wanted to be in the picture with him. This is all part of a day for Suh, who was all business when he practiced on the field and didn't want to talk about any of his business off of it.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Ndamukong Suh
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh went home to Oregon during the offseason, where he put his "mad scientist hat on" to make himself better physically.
What Suh didn't know, though, was Mosley was in the midst of praising his teammate for what he had managed to do in the offseason.

"The man really worked this offseason," Mosley said. "Really worked. Gained 10 pounds of muscle and body fat went down. That's something you should ask him about. The reason it was surprising to me is I've played with great D-tackles.

"Kevin Williams. Pat Williams. Shaun Rogers. I played with a lot of great D-tackles and nobody that I know has worked that hard. I don't know what he did to do that, but nobody has. He was already in great shape."

What did Suh do? He insists it is nothing more than normal. He returned to Oregon for his typical offseason workouts as he does every year and tinkered with his body. He said he found his best masseuse while he was filming the reality television show "American Muscle" with Mike Barwis, an unexpected change to his typical workout regimen.

But this is what Suh does in the offseason and how he trains so he can try to ensure he will not miss a game due to injury for the fifth straight season.

"I feel like there's always a margin for increasing and getting better," Suh said. "I am always going to strive to be the best that I can. That's what I do in the offseason.

"That's why I go home and go in there with a mad scientist hat on and figure out what I can do to better myself physically."

While he is the defensive tackle who receives the majority of the attention, he is one of multiple tackles now in a contract year, joining Nick Fairley and Mosley. Mosley said that shouldn't change anything with how they play or what they do. Suh's contract was not going to distract them anyway, and he expected Suh to be motivated no matter what was going on there.

"We're motivating each other just by playing beside each other," Fairley said. "That's how we motivate each other. I see him make a play, I want to make a play. He sees me make a play, I know he wants to make a play. So, we just feed off each other."

It is a feeding that could turn into an unintentional frenzy on the field for the Lions. While the defensive tackles shouldn't be motivated by contract years, human nature would suggest they can't help but not be. It plays out like that time and time again.

From the way Suh was acting Monday, though, it doesn't seem like he is going to be bothered by it one bit.
From the beginning, there always seemed like a demarcation line of concern when it came to the ongoing contract discussions with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Even though he switched agents this offseason and there always appeared to be something keeping negotiations between Suh and the Lions from progressing, there was optimism the two sides would come to a deal by the time training camp started.

Suh
Training camp begins Monday with veterans reporting Sunday. And now colleague Chris Mortensen is saying a team source told him the team is not optimistic about reaching a deal by the start of camp.

With it, the Lions can officially become concerned about whether or not Suh will be with the team beyond this season. Suh has seemed like a player who would not want to have contract discussions during a season, especially if he is now potentially playing for a new deal either with Detroit or elsewhere.

It would behoove the Lions to say they would not negotiate during the season. Doing so gives a timeline for any real negotiations and eliminates what would otherwise be a constant distraction for a franchise needing to minimize them at every possible cost.

This leaves Detroit and the Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, with two potential windows to hatch a deal -- if there is even the true desire to do so: Either between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season, or between the end of the season and the start of free agency.

If the Lions were smart, they would push to not have Suh play out the season with free agency looming. Another huge season from him and he may want to test free agency no matter what, just to see what he could command on the open market as one of the top players at his position.

Either way, the concern about Ndamukong Suh is now real and it should lead to an interesting few weeks as a sidebar to Detroit’s training camp.

This also sets up one of the worst-case scenarios for Detroit when it chose to decline the fifth-year option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If Suh does not get a deal done, there is a real chance the team could lose their first-round picks from 2010 and 2011 after 2014.

It would decimate the interior of a defensive line the Lions built around the past few seasons.

Of course, the Lions can keep Fairley around by either tagging him or re-signing him if he has the season Detroit is hoping for.

None of this is to say Suh is wrong at all. He has every right to have his agent negotiate the best possible deal for him considering the finite nature of his profession. It is exactly what Suh is paying Sexton for.

But if Suh really wants to be in Detroit and really wants to help the Lions turn into a winning franchise, he would push his agent to finish a deal before Sept. 8, when the Lions play on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants.
Nick Fairley is committing himself to weight loss, and this is exactly what Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew had in mind.

Fairley
Mayhew said from the beginning when he chose not to pick up Fairley’s fifth-year option that this was going to be a motivational push for the talented defensive tackle. He hoped by not having anything guaranteed after this season, Fairley would turn into the player the Lions expected when they drafted him in 2011.

It also came with a risk – that Fairley would turn into the player the Lions wanted and then they wouldn’t be able to afford him when free agency came calling after this season. It would appear, judging from the Detroit Free Press story Saturday, that Fairley is at least going to attempt to do that.

The newspaper said he is down to 295 pounds, which will likely make him faster and able to have a quicker first step against interior linemen. He also told the paper he is going to keep with his diet, and that is going to be key for any Fairley consistency on the field this fall.

Remember, this is a player who has as much natural ability – if not more – than Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions are trying to re-sign this offseason as he enters the final season of his contract. If he transforms into the always-there player Detroit needs, it could finally give the Lions what they were desiring when they drafted Suh and Fairley in back-to-back seasons at the start of the decade.

They built a 4-3 system around the strength and potential unblockable nature of the defensive line for former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. But it never truly worked under Cunningham because of the lack of consistency from Fairley, among other things.

If Fairley is faster and less blockable, it might force teams to pick between Suh, Fairley and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah as to who to double. This should lead to more rush lanes for all three of those linemen along with anyone else new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is going to send at opposing quarterbacks.

If it works and if Fairley stays both healthy, in shape and motivated, it could give Austin the aggressive, attacking defense his players have boasted about over the past few weeks.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.

The Detroit Lions opened their organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday at their practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan.

The media will watch Wednesday’s session, and here are five things to pay attention to as this part of the offseason begins.

1. What's going on with Suh?

Ndamukong Suh has been the main topic of the entire offseason, from his contract situation to missing the beginning of offseason workouts. But Suh is back in town, and how he ends up interacting with everyone will be something to watch.

Dominic Raiola said Monday night he was looking forward to seeing him -- and there’s a good chance the young defensive players are feeling the same way. There have been some questions about Suh getting up to speed with the defense, but he has never shown up out of shape and there is no reason to think Suh will not be in shape this time around, in what could end up being a contract year for him. Now his storyline can shift back to whether he signs an extension with the Lions.

Fairley
2. What does Nick Fairley look like?

Saw Fairley briefly the first day of offseason workouts in April. He didn’t talk to the media then and he was wearing a baggy shirt, so it was difficult to tell what he looked like. He’s always been able to play with a lot of weight, though, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

What type of shape he’s in -- and how motivated he is after the Lions chose not to pick up his fifth-year option earlier this year -- will be the major questions surrounding him. Fairley is now playing for his second NFL contract, either in Detroit or elsewhere, and money can be a motivating factor for a lot of players.

Stafford
Stafford
3. What will the offense look like?

Since Detroit hired Joe Lombardi as the team’s offensive coordinator, much has been made about the Lions looking like a northern version of the high-powered New Orleans Saints. It is part of the reason the team drafted North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round and brought in Golden Tate in free agency. The Lions should have every offensive piece they will need from a skill position standpoint. How quickly Matthew Stafford and his group pick up the offense will be interesting. While there won’t be a ton of clues Wednesday, by the end of the mandatory minicamp in June, there should be a clue as to what Detroit could look like in the fall.

4. What's going on at the corners?

Chris Houston won’t be out there and may not be ready by training camp. Martin Mayhew has indicated this is a big season for the young, developing corners the team does have -- Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, Bill Bentley and Darius Slay, the last of who is thought to be a potential starter this fall. If that quartet can make the necessary improvements, perhaps cornerback won’t be as big an issue as it has been the past few years. Also curious to see where the team uses Rashean Mathis. The veteran, if he can play as he did a season ago, could provide relief either in the slot or on the outside.

5. How does the team respond to coach Jim Caldwell?

So far, the players have said all the right things and acted in all the right ways. However, it’ll be interesting to see the pace of his practices and the way he interacts with the players during practice. He was brought in to be a calming, more disciplined influence on a team that went through a lot of penalty issues in prior seasons. Expect the team to believe in Caldwell heading into this season -- he proved in his opening news conference he can be fiery in certain situations -- and to be happy to have another fresh-type start.
The NFL draft is less than a week away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we'll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today continues with the defensive line.

Previous previews

Players Lost: Willie Young, DE (signed with Chicago); Israel Idonije, DE (signed with Chicago)

[+] EnlargeDonald
AP Photo/Don WrightTaking Aaron Donald at No. 10 would provide the Lions with insurance in case Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley is not back in 2015.
Players Signed: George Johnson, DE; Kourtnei Brown, DE; Darryl Tapp, DE/OLB; Vaughn Martin, DT; Corvey Irvin, DT.

Players on the roster: Defensive ends: Ezekiel Ansah; Jason Jones; Devin Taylor; Tapp; Brown; Johnson. Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh; Nick Fairley; C.J. Mosley; Andre Fluellen; Martin; Irvin; Jimmy Saddler-McQueen; Xavier Proctor.

Draft priority: Medium

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina; Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg; Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: It is an interesting situation when it comes to the Detroit defensive line, in part because the player the Lions should take in the first round could end up being available at the slot. It might not, though, be the player the Lions will take.

If Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle from Pittsburgh, is sitting at No. 10 and no unexpected players like Mike Evans are still available, the Lions should take him even though they have Suh and Fairley. The reasoning behind it is simple.

By taking Donald, the Lions would provide more depth up front in the present and also provide themselves with a potential replacement for either Fairley or Suh should either one not return to Detroit after the season. Worst case for Detroit, if both Suh and Fairley somehow returned, the Lions could have even more flexibility on the defensive line and truly have the best defensive front four in the NFL.

Donald may be the best player available at that point as well.

Even if the Lions pass on Donald, they will almost assuredly take a defensive tackle at some point this week because the team's top six defensive tackles -- and every non-practice squad defensive tackle -- will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Detroit needs to add a rush end, too, and Anthony Barr could be an option there in the first round. Larry Webster could be a late round pick to watch. He's a project, but he could fit in well with what the Lions have already in Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor at the position.

Of all reasonable options, I'd take: As mentioned above, if Donald is available, that is who I would take in Round 1. I don't think the Lions would do this -- my bet would be they bolster the secondary -- but Donald is a difference-maker.

Should that happen, the Lions could use a fourth-round pick on Webster as well and really solidify the defensive front the team tried to build the entire defense around.

Possible targets: Donald, Webster, Barr, Dee Ford, DE, Auburn; Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida; Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas; Dominique Easley, DT, Florida; Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State; Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina; Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU.

A week ago, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand said the plan for the team was to win now and that he didn’t have a five-year plan in place.

The five-year plan bit triggered something almost as soon as he said it -- and it popped up again after general manager Martin Mayhew said the team wouldn’t be picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Fairley has been a maddening player for Detroit. He has first-round talent, but has not been able to put any of that together consistently, which appears to be why the Lions have made this decision, especially since keeping him around would have cost $5.5 million in 2015.

Mayhew told reporters this move is to motivate Fairley for this season -- and this is where the five-year plan problem comes in again. Planning, though, has the history of backfiring from time to time. This is what the Lions have to hope doesn't happen now that they are going to take a massive risk on their future in order to win now.

While it is good to be adaptable and flexible, the Lions have now put themselves in a position where there is a chance they could lose both of their starting defensive tackles -- the same tackles they spent first-round picks on in 2010 and 2011 -- at the end of next season. Theoretically, after the threat of possibly losing Ndamukong Suh, they could also lose their top three tackles as C.J. Mosley is also in the final year of his deal.

Suh
This puts immense pressure on Detroit to make sure it gets a deal done with Suh, and while the Lions appear confident it will happen -- they could have waited before making a decision on Fairley. Now, if negotiations with Suh aren’t fruitful over the next few months, a defense built solely around a strong front four would be losing its most critical interior pieces.

Those are decisions that can blow up plans for a coaching staff and an organization if they get it wrong.

When it comes to Fairley, this feels like it could mean 2014 is the final season he is in Detroit. If Fairley responds well to this somewhat bizarre motivational tactic, he could then choose to test free agency and see what his market value is. If he doesn't respond, he is gone anyway.

As long as the team retains Suh, they can handle that.

But there is the doomsday for Detroit option in play now. Suh chooses to leave. Fairley plays well and also decides to bolt. And now there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Lions' defensive line that will need to be rebuilt with immense speed.

Why?

It goes back to Lewand and the need to win now. This decision backs up his statement of not having a five-year plan and of having immense urgency to win now. Sometimes what makes sense in the short term doesn’t work for the long term and in this case, the Lions need to hope they are right with this decision.

Otherwise a lot more than one player might need to be overhauled.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To see the Meet the Free Agents series thus far, click this link.

Free agent to be: Andre Fluellen

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 28

Years in the league: 6

What he made last season: $457,059 (cap value); $588,824 (cash value); $715,000 (base salary).

What he did last season: Fluellen played a reserve role after joining the Lions following the season-ending injury to Jason Jones. In 13 games, Fluellen made three tackles. He averaged 12.1 snaps a game in relief of starting tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

His potential market value: Little. He’s a good locker room guy and someone who can be a player that can be brought in at the veteran minimum to whatever team, but he likely won’t be getting more than that from any of the NFL teams.

Will he fit the Lions still: General manager Martin Mayhew didn’t rule out a potential return for Fluellen, but the market for him is not high and the team can wait to see what other options are out there that might be more effective than Fluellen has been in his career, where he has 55 tackles in 69 games and 2.5 career sacks -- although none since 2010.

What happens: Fluellen won’t be a high priority free agent for Detroit, but he would likely still be available for the team should they choose to bring him back after exploring other options. He has spent the majority of his career with the Lions and continually returns to the team after being released. As mentioned before, he is a good character guy who can provide a good influence to both Fairley and Suh in the locker room, along with the other younger defensive linemen the team has brought in over the past few years. If he does return, it likely won’t be until a bit later in free agency.

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