By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin explained Wednesday why he demoted Nick Fairley from the role of starting defensive tackle
“What went into the decision was the fact that C.J. [Mosley] was playing really well and at the time [Nick] wasn’t,” Austin said. “Since that time he’s done a good job, he’s gotten better, he’s practiced better, and we still need Nick to play well for us, and so at this point we’re still pushing Nick and he’s starting to push and he’s doing some better things, and I would expect that he’s going to play better.
“Like we do with all our guys, we talk to them, we tell them exactly where they stand so there’s no gray area, [so] they don’t feel like they’re being blindsided, so he understood,” Austin continued, “and since that time he’s been working really hard to try to get back to being a starter because that’s what he’s used to doing.”
On Wednesday, Fairley spoke with media for the first time about his demotion. At first he said he did not know why he had been placed on the second string, but later he talked about his meeting with Austin.
“Basically, we sat down and we just came to an agreement that me and him, basically I’ve just got to play consistent, and I said that to you guys in OTAs,” Fairley said. “That’s just something I’ve got to do this season.”
Detroit declined to pick up Fairley’s fifth-year option this offseason, a move that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew characterized as incentive for Fairley. Mayhew had also mentioned Fairley’s weight, saying a redistribution of the tackle’s bulk would help him.
Fairley said he weighs 315 now, and he said he feels comfortable and could play at that weight. He gives his goal weight, however, as 305 and attributed the weight gain during training camp to his eating habits getting out of whack.
Austin acknowledged his weight has been a problem, though not an unusual one at Fairley’s position.
“With big guys you always have that,” Austin said. “For the most part you always have an issue with trying to get a weight that they’re comfortable with and getting into a routine. Sometimes when you change routines, whatever your summer routine is to come here, you’ll have some ups and downs, and I think that’s where Nick was, and he’s starting to figure out where he needs to be, and he’s working towards that goal.”
Because Fairley has a significant amount of talent – which shows intermittently but not always – there have been questions about whether his inconsistency stems from a lack of effort and motivation.
Austin did not confirm those issues exist for Fairley but said helping players stay motivated is part of the coaching staff’s job.
“Our job is to try to get our guys to play well no matter what it takes,” Austin said. “Not everybody’s going to be a guy that’s a self-starter, work over the top all the time. There’s different ways that you have to motivate guys and get them going, and that’s part of our job to figure out, ‘Hey, what makes a guy tick? What’s going to help him play well?’ So we’re doing whatever we can to try to do that because we feel the guy’s super talented, he’s a good guy, and we just want him to – we’d love him to play great, and I think he’s on track now.”
Between the team not picking up Fairley’s option and its recent demotion of the 2011 first-round draft pick, the Lions look less than enthralled by what Fairley has shown between last season and this offseason. Fairley said he does not know what those moves say about his future in Detroit.
“I couldn’t tell you, to be honest,” Fairley said. “I really couldn’t tell you what it means.”
Fairley says he wants to stay in Detroit, however, and he plans to be a starter again by the time the regular season begins.
While he acknowledged the demotion as a wake-up call, he did not seem particularly deterred by the move.
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit’s star defensive tackle who will also be a free agent after this season, downplayed Fairley’s demotion.
“I don’t really look at depth charts, especially this early in the preseason,” Suh said. “They really don’t matter. I’m going to go out there and play with whoever’s going to be out there. Ziggy wasn’t with us in the first team, was in the second team last year, that’s how I was my rookie year and my older days, moving around, playing with different guys. Honestly, it doesn’t mean much to me. I’m not going to pay much attention to it, just go out there and do what you have to do and get ready for practice.”
As far as what Fairley’s potential, Suh endorsed him in perhaps the most positive way he ever could.
“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, “and that’s what I want to see out of him.”