Nick Injured? It’s Fairley Insigificant

>> 8.02.2011

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:

PANIC?

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.

5 comments:

Anonymous,  August 3, 2011 at 1:07 AM  

I am quite concerned with Fairley's foot injury, especially for the position he plays and the size of the man. Yesterday was probably swelling, and this morning black and blue appeared. An injury like this could put him on IR.

Mike August 3, 2011 at 1:56 AM  

I very HIGHLY doubt it would put him on IR. Really at this point in the year the only injury that would put him out for that long would be something that would require surgery which is not likely in this case.

I would imagine it is a stress fracture, especially considering the symptoms and lack of evidence on an x-ray. Crutches and easing back into the swing would put him just about on pace to start week 1 nearly at 100% considering most fractures heal in 4-6 weeks. Sure he misses reps in the scheme, but as a 3-tech DT there really isn't much for him to learn in reps that he can't learn in playbook study.

Lankownia August 4, 2011 at 1:37 PM  

After-the-fact advocates for the drafting of Fairley saw the LB and DB signings as proof that the Lions made a good choice in going for talent over need. Ignoring the issue that getting production out of talent, at any position, is highly uncertain, the axiom seemed to be: address needs via free agency and talent via the draft.

That argument is strengthened when your needs are minimized. After the impressive efficiency these free agent signings, that appears to be the Lions circumstance. Needs addressed; talent improved; all is good.

Or is it? Given the concerns about the starters at OT, chiefly related to health, wouldn't a 1st round pick for OT, like Gabe Carimi, have given the Lions a valuable bump in 2011, on top of the (presumed) benefits of future roster flexibility, talent, production, etc?

We see, thanks to injury, an early indicator that Fairley will not be a significant contributer to the 2011 team. No big loss, because "he doesn’t need to be an All-Pro for the Lions to have a good defense this year."

That may be true. However, the absence of a bad thing doesn't make up for the absence of a good thing.

My point: while it's obviously way premature to judge the 2011 draft, the fact that Fairley isn't needed in 2011 doesn't help his case one way or the other.

Furthermore, the rapidly increasing liklihood that he won't help much in 2011 DOES diminish his value. That's because one 'cost-controlled' season (in which his pay is nonetheless substantial) is going to be underutilized in comparison to to other NFL teams that are getting immediate contributions from their 1st rounders, helping them win football games in 2011.

There is a flip side to not needing your 1st rounder to contribute. Hurrah! - its wonderful that we don't NEED a rookie to step up. But, argh! we've wasted an opportunity to give this 2011 team an immediate upgrade.

Matt,  August 4, 2011 at 9:30 PM  

Lankownia, you've got some fair points, but I'll think there's a small flaw in your logic. Would Gabe Carimi (or whichever OL you like at 1.13) have contributed any more to the OL in 2011 than Nick Fairley can/will contribute to the DL? For the sake of this argument, let's assume everyone, including Fairley, is 100% healthy. I think it's highly unlikely that a rookie like Carimi takes a 2011 starting job away from Backus, Sims, Raiola, Peterman, or Cherilus, especially given the abbreviated off-season. He's only going to contribute if/when one of these guys goes down. Fairley, on the other hand, will be part of the DT rotation from Day 1 and only become a bigger part if/when another D-Lineman goes down.

Now, at this moment in reality, Fairley, Backus, and Cherilus are all on the mend, so hindsight would point to an O-Lineman being a good choice back in April. That doesn't make it the best choice overall for 2011 and/or beyond, though. In reality, very few rookies (1st round or otherwise) are going to make an impact this season thanks to the lockout. The Lions will still get something out of Fairley in 2011 when he's healed up. That's more than most NFL teams will be able to say come February and, I think, more than the Lions would be able to say had they drafted Carimi.

Lankownia August 8, 2011 at 3:43 PM  

@Matt

Yes, Carimi probably would be contributing because he'd probably be the top backup at a position where both starters are hurt. Your 3rd OT is likely to start some games in a given season. And considering you had a fairly old LT and a RT coming off major surgery, it wasn't a totally unforeseeable situation.

DT may rotate more than OT, but Fairley was still going to be the 4th or 5th guy on the depth chart. How much he helps, even if healthy...we'll see.

Many rookies make significant impacts every year. The lockout may push that impact further into the season, but it's still going to happen. Just maybe not for the Lions, I guess.

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