"Old school" Nick Fairley rounding into form

Posted Nov 13, 2013

Nick Fairley says his performance in Chicago has given him the confidence and mindset that he can make more of an impact going forward

It was an emotional moment between player and coach.

After Nick Fairley stuffed the Chicago Bears’ running back Matt Forte on their second two-point conversion attempt to preserve the Lions 21-19 victory last week, the cameras caught Fairley and defensive line coach Jim Washburn in an embrace on the sidelines. Washburn was saying something in Fairley’s ear.

"He was telling me to continue to move forward," Fairley said of that moment. "He’s seeing that my level of play is increasing each week and he was basically saying that I needed that game. I’m just trying to take what he said to heart and run with it."

The play on the two-point conversion was huge for the third-year defensive tackle, who just minutes earlier had a costly roughing-the-passer penalty that helped the Bears get into a position to tie the game.

That series is a microcosm of Fairley’s short NFL career so far.

There are times when he’ll disappear for stretches, or make a play – like the roughing call in the last series – that leaves people scratching their heads.

But then there are other moments – like the sack on Josh McCown in the last series and the absolute dominating fashion in which he blew up that last play – that show how immensely talented he is.

"The two-point play, I’ve really never seen anything like it," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "We call it a scoop technique with the offensive line and he blew up both the center and the guard. He played that play like the player I think he is, which is a dominating inside tackle."

So, why don’t we see it with more frequency?

A lack of consistency is probably the best answer. It’s been the biggest weakness in Fairley’s game these first three seasons.

"I think any young player is going to deal with inconsistencies," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "I don’t really mean it as a negative toward Nick. Its just sort of where he is in his career.

"There are a lot of players that deal with inconsistencies and things like that. It doesn’t have any reflection of their effort and their preparation and things like that.

"He has been very good at times and other times, there’s things that he still needs to work on, things he needs to do better."

After a slow start to the season (his second in as many seasons), the former No. 13 overall pick in 2011 has come on of late. He’s tallied seven hits on the quarterback and a sack in his last two games against Dallas and Chicago.

It was around this same time last year during a five-game stretch that began Nov. 11 at Minnesota and ended when he suffered the shoulder injury at Green Bay, Fairley had four sacks, two forced fumbles and 23 tackles.

"I went on a run and got in really good shape and really just got the tempo down," Fairley said of that stretch last year.

"I would say I’m a player that builds and gets better as the season goes. It’s a long season and you don’t want to start too high or too low. I’m trying to keep it even all the way through and as the season goes on, progress and get better."

Nick FairleyDT Nick Fairley (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Schwartz said Fairley’s recent play wasn't quite at the same level as that stretch last year, yet, but it is noteworthy his play has elevated around the same time in back-to-back seasons.

"I always call Nick an old school player," Cunningham told when asked about it. "In the old days they played themselves into shape, but they had six preseason games.

"Nick is one of those bodies that needs to be here all the time and work all the time. He's at a point where we like him. Everyone thinks he’s a big fat guy, well, he’s not, he’s a big powerful guy. He’s got the old school stomach and it fits him perfect.

"Nick is still growing as a man… if you allow him to grow into it you’re going to have a heck of a player and that’s what I think of Nick."

Cunningham said the greatest advice former Oakland owner Al Davis ever gave him is that it takes three years to really tell something about a player.

This is year three for Fairley.

"It just really helped my confidence out," Fairley said of Sunday’s performance, that also included four quarterback hits. "It really helps my confidence level out that I can go in every down and play like that and help this team. It’s basically just getting that confidence and that mindset that I can do that each and every play."