Nick Fairley showed up to this morning’s practice in a walking boot, obviously unable to work. Confirmed by a Tweet from the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, the previously-thought-to-be-minor injury became a possible stress fracture. To steal a meme from MGoBlog:
No, no panic. For starters, this is training camp—bumps and bruises happen. For seconds, this training camp comes after the longest absolutely-no-work layoff in modern NFL history. Normally, these guys have already gone through several sessions of “no contact” (but actually mostly full speed) OTAs, plus a full minicamp. The player-only workouts were just conditioning and 7-on-7 stuff; this is the first real football of 2011 and it’s already August. There were bound to be more nicks and dings than usual.
Here's the other thing: depth. Remember The Parable Of The One-Eyed Beggar? This is partly why the Lions have Corey Williams AND Ndamukong Suh AND Sammie Hill AND Nick Fairley AND Andre Fluellen: so that they can lose one or two of those guys for a while without much of a dropoff.
The flipside is that the Lions’ defensive line must keep rolling waves, so they’ll need Fairley back—but not the way they needed Ndamukong Suh last season. Suh played a thousand snaps, nearly every single down the defense was on the field last season. Fairley was never going to carry that big of a load even if he showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, dominated every rep, and didn’t suffer so much as a paper cut. He’s an extremely talented player and he seems like a nice, fun-loving guy—but he doesn’t need to be an All-Pro for the Lions to have a good defense this year.
If you want to read the tea leaves for how this season’s going to go, don’t scour the injury report, check out Tom Kowalski’s first “Camp Observations” posts:
An interesting play developed during the first period of team work. The Lions' offense went to the line of scrimmage and center Dominic Raiola changed the call. Safety Louis Delmas sensed something and quickly changed the defensive call and shifted the defensive alignment. Seeing that, Raiola quickly reverted back to the original call and snapped the ball. It was a running play wide left and Jahvid Best broke it for a long gainer, bringing cheers from the crowd.
I love every single thing about that quote. I love that we see the value of Raiola: there are bigger centers who can run block better, but he improves the whole offense with his ability to read a defense and change the protection—or even the play. It’ll never show up on a stat sheet, or even in Pro Football Focus’s grades, but it Dominic Raiola brings a wealth of value to this team that that cannot be denied.
Second, I love that Louis Delmas is maturing. His groin healed from last season, allowing him to again play like “Da Missile” we saw in 2009—but he’s coming into his own as a complete safety now. He has the recognition skills and leadership ability to put the rest of the defense in position to succeed; he’s not just flying around putting shoulders into people.
Third, I love that Jahvid Best can still hit the home run. We didn’t see much of his “jets” after the first few games, but I believe he’s going to make a believer out of everyone this year. Delmas and Best were two guys who were supposed to be huge for the Lions last year, and they weren’t. If they can play at the level described above, they’ll improve the team just as much as Tulloch, Durant, or any of the offseason additions.