If the low point of 2012 for the Lions turns out to be preseason misbehavior by four of the five young men drafted by Detroit the previous year, there will be a lot of happy fans in the Motor City.
Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure, Johnny Culbreath and Titus Young are all very gifted athletes who could have an outstanding year and help the Lions become even more successful than they were last season.
Or the Lions could get to the playoffs again without any of these guys. There are always teams in the league willing to gamble and trade for talented bad boys should Detroit decide to put them on the market and move on.
Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew know how good these guys can be. That’s why they were drafted. The real questions are whether these young men can quickly mature into professionals or if they're not temperamentally suited to be Detroit Lions.
“You can’t be one of the guys and be cool, this and that and make it in this league. This is your livelihood. This is how you support your family and friends and it’s very important that you’re held accountable to your teammates.”
Being a successful professional in the NFL requires more than talent; it requires a steady commitment to excel at your craft and the self-discipline to avoid behavior that could sideline you and hurt your team.
It’s been recently reported that the NFL has suspended Leshoure for two games. It’s likely that Fairley will also be suspended for two games once his legal issues have been adjudicated.
Both players will miss the Lions’ season opener against the Rams at Ford Field and the nationally-televised rematch against the 49ers at Candlestick Park the following week. Detroit can win both games without Fairley and Leshoure, but it will be harder to do without them.
Both players acted stupidly off the field. Both were arrested twice within a sort period of time for misdemeanor crimes related to substance abuse. Even worse, they committed a serious football felony by acting unprofessionally and letting their team and fans down.
By all accounts, after their latest controversies, Fairley and Young have been outstanding performers during off-season practices. Leshoure has been limited because he’s still rehabbing the torn left Achilles tendon he suffered early last August.
Everyone involved in the ultra-competitive NFL is driven to succeed. Pride and big paychecks are powerful motivators. However, from time-to-time even seasoned veterans need a wake-up call.
Detroit’s 2011 draft class got their kick in the ass earlier than most, but if there is a silver lining in all of this, it may be that Fairley, Leshoure, Young and Culbreath now feel they have even more to prove than they did before (they do).
Draft Class of 2011 Controversies
When you think about the high-level of talent this group possesses, that could be a scary development for Lions opponents.
If Fairly busts up the middle on defense like the Hulk, Leshoure busts up the middle on offense like Iron Man, and Young becomes the next Victor Cruz—in part to pay penance for their misdeeds—a little preseason pain could result in a much better Detroit Lions team when it really matters.
And while we’re making lemonade out of lemons, giving Fairley and Leshoure an extra two weeks to recover from their injuries before taking the field on game day for the first time may be a back-handed blessing of sorts.
It would be better to leave that play/no-play decision to Jim Schwartz and the team’s medical staff, but it is what it is.
Since the Lions are taking a vacation now before training camp begins in late July, maybe it’s time for fans and sports writers to give the steady sermonizing about the foolish misdeeds of a few young men a rest.
The mini-crises were handled well by the Lions' entire organization, from Bill Ford, Jr., Tom Lewand, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz on down. Team leaders did a great job dealing with the controversies in public and behind the scenes in the locker room.
The wayward players have made their apologies and are contrite.
It’s time to move on.