August 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Chris McCosky

If he stays healthy, Nick Fairley should be an All-Pro force for Lions

Allen Park Man, I want to stand before you here, right now, and boldly proclaim Ive seen the Lions next All-Pro defensive tackle and his name is Nick Fairley.

I want to tell you about the 20 pounds he lost in the six weeks between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp and how quick and still powerful hes looked the last two weeks. I want to tell you the havoc he and Ndamukong Suh are causing the interior offensive linemen in team drills.

I want to tell you that he gets it now. He understands what it takes mentally and what it demands physically to be a dominant and consistent performer at the NFL level. I want to tell you all the raves hes getting from teammate and coaches.

Like this from defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham:

The other day, Tully (Stephen Tulloch) came off the field frustrated, I mean really frustrated. We had a run-play-action drill, I said Tully whats wrong. He said, I cant get my reads, Nick and (Ndamukong) Suh are screwing up every play that they run. I couldnt get any reads; theyre knocking the crap out of everybody.

I was laughing because I saw it from the sideline. Going back to Suh and Nick playing together, everybody in the league is saying the same thing look out.

I want to tell you that Fairley is poised, finally, to be the star the Lions thought they drafted three years ago.

But ...

Theres always a but with these Lions, isnt there?

If decades of futility have taught us nothing else, it has taught us to be very wary of trusting anything in Honolulu Blue and Silver that looks like it might be successful.

Just when you think somethings up, its down. A 10-6 team on the rise in 2011 becomes the 4-12 same old Lions in 2012. Ive already been burned by nave enthusiasm. It was right around this time last year I made the sage announcement that the Young guns Willie Young and Titus Young would enjoy breakout seasons in 2012.

Howd that work out for me?

Fool me once, as the saying goes. Nobody should be rushing to make any bold predictions about anybody or anything. The coaching staff seems to be taking the same wary approach.

'You're going to see something'

Anybody watching these practices can see how disruptive a force Fairley has been. He seems to be making one splash play after another. He and Suh were chasing ball carries some 50 and 60 yards down field on Saturday, ala Kyle Vanden Bosch.

He was so hard to block on Saturday, he came away with his practice jersey virtually shredding from all the clutching and grabbing.

Yet, Cunningham and coach Jim Schwartz continually temper their praise with phrases like, lets hope he stays on this track, or ability isnt his problem, its been availability.

When Cunningham was asked on Friday if the light had finally gone on for Fairley, the first thing he said was, Some players come in and start like a bat-out-of-hell and make the splash, but then nobody knows what happened to them.

Immediately, he talked about Fairleys injury issues his first two seasons.

Jim and I were talking and Jim said that (Fairley) played four or five really good games for us, Cunningham said. I dont think Nick Fairley has played at a 100-percent level since he has been here because of all the nagging injuries he has had.

If Nick is 100 percent, youre going to see something.

Always that if.

Nicks had a really good beginning to camp, Schwartz said on Saturday. He made an outstanding play today, a great chase play. Hes been available for practice each day. Hes been rushing well. Hes been playing the run well. Were really looking forward to what he can do in there this year. We still have a long way to go, but its been very encouraging to see what he can do.

We always knew what he could do, but theres just going to have to be a consistent time on the field. Thats been the thing in the past.

Fairley, to his credit, fully understands that part of it. His inability to stay on the field for a full season frustrates him, maybe even angers him. Certainly it motivates him.

Hes only had seven starts in two seasons. Hes posted 6.5 sacks in that time, but four of them came in a five-game stretch last season.

I havent really finished a season, yet this is going on my third year, he said Saturday, talking to the media for the first time since camp opened. Thats one of my big goals, to make it through all 16 games this year.

'Everybody's goal is to dominate'

Thats what the 20-pound weight loss was about. He cut out fast food and fried food and he maintained his cardio regimen over the break. Defensive line coaches Kris Kocurek and Jim Washburn have harped on him daily about maintaining his conditioning. His weight room regimen has been intensified, even during camp.

He said he played at 315 to 320 pounds last season and he was heavier than that at the end of mini-camp. Right now, hes hovering between 306 and 310.

Everybodys goal is to dominate and be at the top of their position, he said. We come out every day working hard as a group, and me and (Suh), were working on our craft together.

Last year at this time he was answering questions about his legal troubles in Mobile, Ala. This year, he is answering questions about perhaps being part of the best defensive tackle tandem in the game.

Thats a pretty big leap in a year, though not completely unprecedented for him. He wasnt an immediate star at Auburn, either. He had to feel his way for a bit before he burst onto the scene in that national championship season of 2010.

I asked him Saturday if he feels right now like he did before that 2010 season, that he was ready to break out.

Kinda sorta, he said. I would say so. Coming in, like you said, my first year at Auburn I was kind of figuring things out and then the next thing you know, next year, bam, it happened. So it took my first two years (in the NFL), kind of figuring things out, third year, hopefully, break out.

You want to believe him. You want to believe what you are seeing in these practices is real and will translate over a full 16-game season. But its hard to do that with this team. So, its probably best not to make any proclamations or predictions.

It may be a whole lot of fun watching Fairley and Suh create their own particular brand of malfeasance on the football field, but lets just see what happens.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

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Defensive linemen Willie Young, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley (far right) and Braylon Broughton joke around before the start of practice Saturday. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News