When will the Nick Fairley of the first quarter at New Orleans be back?

Posted Aug 24, 2012

Anyone who watched the first quarter of the Lions’ regular-season matchup last year with the Saints witnessed the immense potential of one Nick Fairley.

Before aggravating a foot injury at the end of the quarter -- an injury he dealt with all of last year -- the rookie defensive tackle was dominant, recording a sack and two tackles for loss against Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks.

Fairley entered the offseason training program this season finally 100-percent healthy and in great shape, earning him high praise from Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, who singled out Fairley along with defensive end Willie Young and running back Jahvid Best as players who had really stood out to him in the offseason program.

But now two preseason games into the season, at what point does potential become reality with Fairley?

Fairley fell to the Lions at No. 13 in the 2011 NFL Draft because of concerns about his maturity. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham expressed those same concerns on Wednesday when talking to reporters.

“Well he struggled early when we started camp and he’s starting to get into shape,” he said. “A lot of these young guys lack some of that maturity and he had to work overtime.

“He’s got all the tools to be a very good player. You know, the biggest problem for him is he’s going to have to grow up fast and be consistent. You know, in that position you can’t have a part-time guy.”

Starting to get into shape? It has to be disappointing to the Lions that Fairley didn’t come into training camp in the same shape he was in in the offseason program when Mayhew raved about him. He hasn’t looked anywhere near the player he did this offseason.

Fairley has three tackles and one tackle for loss in the first two preseason games so far.

Where has the Fairley of the first quarter against the Saints been? When do Lions fans get see that guy again?

The maturity issues that Cunningham talked about Wednesday are similar to what Willie Young faced as a rookie seventh-round pick in 2010. Young was admittedly immature about his approach to the game and the work it took to play at this level as a young player. As a result, he barely saw the field.

Young grew up quick and stuck close to veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, a notoriously hard worker, and now he’s showing all the signs of a breakout season in 2012.

It appears Fairley needs to go through the same process. His locker is just a couple down from defensive tackle Corey Williams, who comes ready to work everyday with a lunch pail. Hopefully he takes the same approach as Young did and watches how Williams approaches his profession.

Fairley has all the tools to be a good player in this league and that was on display for a brief moment in New Orleans last season. Now 100-percent healthy, it’s disappointing it’s not on display this preseason, too.

“Just needs to play more reps,” head coach Jim Schwartz said when asked about Fairley this week. “Every time that we’ve tried to get him on the field for extended periods of time he hasn’t been able to stay out there. He’s done a good job of his conditioning, he’s worked hard, he’s ran well. He just needs to be on the field more.”

Coaches have publically laid a challenge at Fairley’s feet this week and Saturday’s game in Oakland is his first chance to answer the call.

Fairley has show flashes, but it would be nice to see more consistently with the regular season just 15 days away.