O'HARA: Nick Fairley has a supporter in Ndamukong Suh

Posted Aug 20, 2014

Ndamukong Suh is standing behind Nick Fairley, to the point of saying Fairley could be a better player than he is.

Nick Fairley has acknowledged dealing with his demotion to second-string status on the Lions’ defensive line along with a surprising weight gain since the start of training camp, but he has one big supporter on his side in what has been a troubled training camp and preseason for the fourth-year tackle.

Ndamukong Suh is standing behind Fairley, to the point of saying Fairley could be a better player than he is.

Nick FairleyT Taylor Lewan (Photo: AP Images)

That’s a bold statement, considering Suh has been first-team All Pro twice and a Pro Bowler three times in four seasons. Fairley has yet to live up to the potential the Lions saw in him when they drafted him 13th overall out of Auburn in 2011.

“I haven’t said this a lot or to many people more or less, but Nick is more athletically gifted than me and he has an opportunity to be better than me,” Suh said Wednesday. “That’s what I want to see out of him.”

Suh made the statement after he had been asked about the circumstances surrounding Fairley’s demotion to second string, and if he knew of anything that was bothering Fairley.

“I don’t know if anything is troubling Nick,” Suh said. “From my point of view, I think Nick is being consistent, going out there working hard. I am close with him. I just see him with an opportunity to go out there and play a tough, great season of football for him.

“I’m always going to encourage Nick. I always want him to be the best player he can be.”

Fairley was demoted to second string behind C.J. Mosley in practice last week, and he did not start the second exhibition game at Oakland. Head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin both have said this week that Mosley remains the starter.

Conditioning and consistency have been issues for Fairley. He set career highs last season with 35 tackles and six sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown in a win over Chicago in Game 4.

Fairley seemed in good spirits when he spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since the demotion, but he admitted that he has gained weight since reporting to camp at 305 pounds.

He said he has gained “about seven pounds” since camp started. However, he also said his ideal weight is 305 and he’s up to 315, a difference of 10 pounds.

“I really can’t tell you,” Fairley said when asked how he managed to gain weight in camp. “I don’t know. Just eating. That’s what I’m at.

“Things got, not out of control -- just basically I say my eating habits got out of the way this past two weeks. That’s all.”

He indicated that he plans to remain at 315.

“I feel good here,” Fairley said. “I can play here.”

Mosley has had more playing time than Fairley in both of the first two games. Fairley started and played 12 snaps against Cleveland compared to 17 snaps for Mosley. Against Oakland, Mosley played 20 snaps as a starter to Fairley’s 15.

Austin said Wednesday that putting Mosley ahead of Fairley was based on performance.

“What went into the decision is the fact that CJ was playing really well, and at the time he wasn’t,” Austin said.

Austin added that Fairley has performed better in practice of late, but Mosley is still the starter for Friday night’s third preseason game against Jacksonville.

Fairley said he and Austin have talked about his situation, and that he also has talked to the other defensive linemen.

“Basically, we sat down -- we came to an agreement, me and him (Austin),” Fairley said. “I just have to play consistent. I said that to you guys in OTAs. That’s just something I’ve got to do this season.

“When it happened (the demotion), I sat down and talked to all the d-linemen, and they’ve got my back. They know I’ve got their back. We’re one group.”

Fairley is on the last year of the four-year contract he signed as a rookie. The Lions declined to pick up his fifth-year option, thus allowing Fairley to become a free agent after this season. GM Martin Mayhew said in March that he hoped that would motivate Fairley.

He does not want to leave Detroit, Fairley said.

“I want to be here,” he said. “I want to stay here in Detroit.”