Assessing the Impact of Potential Suspensions for Mikel Leshoure, Nick Fairley

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IAugust 14, 2012

Nick Fairley, out (for a few games, eventually).
Nick Fairley, out (for a few games, eventually).Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The two Detroit Lions draft picks that missed the start of the season (and more) due to injury last season are the two who are almost guaranteed to miss the start of the season this year as well.

Only this time, Nick Fairley feels fine, and Mikel Leshoure's injury is minor.

Both, however, are likely to be suspended for the start of the regular season.

Leshoure's suspension for his offseason transgressions is already decided. He will sit out the first two games of the regular season and rejoin the team for their trip to Tennessee in Week 3.

Fairley's is still up in the air, though considering he was arrested twice, like Leshoure, and was actually speeding while driving under the influence, it is reasonable to think that Fairley gets a similar, if not slightly greater punishment than Leshoure.

That said, Fairley's legal hearing has been postponed until November, and it is unclear whether the commissioner's office will wait until Fairley's legal proceedings have finished to pass down punishment.

There has been plenty of time to review the situation since Fairley's second arrest in late May, so it seems like Commissioner Roger Goodell is waiting on something before making his decision. If he is waiting on Fairley's court proceedings, his suspension won't happen until after Thanksgiving.

But let's assume Goodell is simply taking his sweet time on the case and that Fairley will, indeed, be suspended for somewhere between two and four games to start the season.

The first thing that does is illicit images of Andre Fluellen, who has hung on to the roster by a thread for the last two seasons. Fairley was presumably intended to be a replacement for Fluellen, who rarely played snaps in 2010 despite being part of a consistent defensive tackle rotation.

Fluellen might have been cut in 2011, but Fairley injured his foot in training camp and couldn't go at 100 percent the rest of the season.

Now, Fairley is looking at some sort suspension at some point in 2012, and it might be worth it to the Lions to keep Fluellen on the roster, if only to prevent the team from being shorthanded during his absence.

Fairley hasn't had the opportunity to work himself into an important position on the Lions' roster yet, but the Lions do place a premium on having enough linemen to work with. It's likely that they would dread going into a game with only a three-man rotation at DT, especially for as many as four games.

The Lions may also look to sacrifice an extra DE to keep Fluellen considering the Lions' willingness to move Ndamukong Suh around the formation (with DE presumably being one of his positions). The Lions will still need two DTs in packages where Suh is playing elsewhere, and if Fairley is suspended, they won't have that luxury.

As for Leshoure, well, it's never a good idea to draw too many conclusions from a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, but it appear the Browns" target="_blank">running game might be just fine with or without Leshoure.

Now, that's not to say that Leshoure isn't still valuable. The Lions are going to want him back because despite the impressive performances of Kevin Smith, Joique Bell and Keiland Williams, the one thing that they lacked was explosiveness.

Each of the backs who played against Cleveland showed the ability to read blocks, make the first guy miss and grind out five to seven yards per carry. None of them showed the ability to make the first guy miss, and run away from the other 10.

That kind of explosive playmaking potential is what the Lions want to get from Leshoure (and Jahvid Best), and they won't get it from anyone else on the roster at that position.

But where there may once have been some calls to sign a veteran free agent to bolster the running game (especially in the potential absence of Best and Leshoure), it seems now for the first time that the Lions may do well to stand pat with the guys they have.

Of course, this is based off a single preseason game. The Lions could just as easily rush for 45 yards against the Ravens next week, and all that offseason panic would come right back. Even if it doesn't, there is a notable difference between Bell going off for over 80 yards against the Browns' third- and fourth-stringers and him doing the same against any starting defense.

Even still, with all of the expected doom surrounding the Lions' running game, it was at the very least unexpected to see the Lions succeed in the ground game with spare parts rather than highly-touted draft picks.

In that vein, one of the most notable and least talked-about players from the first preseason game is fullback James Bryant, who did a great deal of lead blocking for Bell in the second half. The Lions played a lot of snaps out of the I formation in an attempt to get a power running game going. The result was relatively consistent: Bryant threw a block; Bell sprung loose to the second level.

Keeping a guy like Bryant who does only one thing well (block out of the backfield) goes against everything the Lions have ever preached about versatility, but if the end result is a power running game like what we saw against the Browns, that might have to be a sacrifice the Lions are willing to make.

Of course, we're not likely to be talking about Bell and Bryant if Leshoure is healthy and playing. Leshoure's absence, while disappointing, has been an opportunity to give some extra reps to a stable of running backs that suddenly looks extremely deep.

If Leshoure had exploded in his first preseason game (the likes of which we are still waiting on), the focus would have been on him saving the Lions' running game, not that the Lions' scheme adjustments and depth players might do as much good as the infusion of talent.

If anything, the loss of Leshoure for part of training camp and the first two games of the season has forced the Lions to look over the roster and realize that they have some difficult decisions to make regarding which running backs to keep on the roster. That's a very good problem to have.

We are looking at the 2012 Lions, a team on which a loss of top players reveals legitimate NFL talent five or six players deep. Suffice to say, it's a little different from 2008.