The Detroit Lions might still lack levels of flag discipline under a new staff and shifting officiating rules, but under Jim Caldwell, it’s becoming clearer that the team probably won’t face as many issues with internal accountability.
For the past four years, the team has been dealing with Nick Fairley, an inconsistent talent. Sometimes, Fairley will shows flashes of being a great defensive tackle. Others, he lacks the mental discipline to stay onside, keep to an offseason plan and make the impact that was expected of him after being a first round pick. In many ways, Fairley has personified the Lions. Equal parts talent and maddening unmet expectations.
Fairley’s free ride in the franchise, though, now appears to be over. In the offseason, Detroit didn’t immediately extend his contract, choosing to make him earn a new deal. Now, after an offseason which his travails have been equal parts positive and negative, Caldwell isn’t having anything but the best for his defensive tackle.
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Before Friday’s game in Oakland, Fairley was benched initially. After he did see time, Caldwell admitted his impact on the game was a bit better, but said he would continue to be judged on how he performed. Consequently, it was no surprise Monday when Fairley was listed with the second team on the depth chart after a rough few weeks.
"“If you’re asking me whether or not Fairley is going to be a starter, he’s not starting right now. He’s second team,” Calwell said via MLive’s Kyle Meinke. “But the rest of it, we’ll look. It’s a long week. We’ve got a lot of work to do in between, and typically, like most games, we’ll take a look with where we are and make an assessment toward the end of the week.”"
For Fairley, the choice is now simple. Either play consistent football or sit.
It appears the Lions finally have some level of competence with their coach. How often during the past 10 years have players been coddled or issues become bigger thanks to the front office and staff’s refusal to take a stance? During the offseason, Fairley appeared to be doing everything he could to improve. In camp, he had flashes. That’s no longer good enough, and under Caldwell, status won’t get Fairley by if he’s not playing at an elite level during games.
By using Fairley as the example, Caldwell is proving to all Lions—both current and future—that the only way a roster spot is guaranteed is with hard work and solid play. In the past, that couldn’t be said. Players such as Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams were coddled by Marty Morhinwheg and Steve Mariucci. For all his virtue as a military man, Rod Marinelli failed to reign in Roy Williams and Shaun Rogers. Jim Schwartz’s take on discipline and accountability? Boys will be boys.
By using Fairley as the example, Caldwell is proving to all Lions—both current and future—that the only way a roster spot is guaranteed is with hard work and solid play.
Caldwell might not have yet won or lost a single game, but with the statement he’s making with Fairley, he’s taking steps toward eradicating the complacent attitude in Allen Park which directly leads to plenty “same old” Lions losses.
Perhaps now it’s easy to understand why Caldwell utilizes the phrase “the cream rises to the top” often. It’s not just a silly cliche, it’s his own reality.