Nick Fairley said he has gained seven pounds since the start of training camp and, after nearly two weeks in a backup role, the big defensive tackle is hopeful that he'll regain his starting job with the Detroit Lions by preseason's end.
"Really, what I plan on doing is just continue to get better as a player and help this team and just go out there and play my (tail) off," Fairley said Wednesday, in his first public comments since his demotion.
The Lions elevated C.J. Mosley to Fairley's starting spot for last week's game against the Oakland Raiders, and Fairley, the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, has continued to work with the second-team defense in practice this week.
Fairley spoke with reporters for five minutes in front of his locker and presented a brave and upbeat face.
He said his weight, as low as 295 pounds after sleep apnea surgery this offseason, ballooned in recent weeks because "my eating habits got out of the way." But he said he's comfortable at his current playing weight of 315 pounds.
Last year, Fairley played as heavy as 322 pounds. He reported to camp last month at 308.
"With big guys, for the most part, you always have an issue with trying to get a weight that they're comfortable with and getting into a routine," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "And sometimes when you change routines, whatever your summer routine is to come here, you'll have some ups and downs. And I think that's where Nick was, and he's starting to figure out where he needs to be and he's working towards that goal."
Fairley brushed off questions about his work ethic that have lingered since the draft -- "It's still the same. I'm good," he said -- and insisted that the way he has handled his demotion has showed improved maturity on his end.
Fairley had one tackle and no real impact on the game in 16 snaps against the Raiders, though Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he thought Fairley played better than he did in the Lions' preseason-opening win over the Cleveland Browns.
"When it happened, I sat down and talked to all the D-linemen," Fairley said. "They got my back and they know I got their group. We're one group. We're going to go out here this Friday, go against the Jaguars and see what we can do."
A starter when healthy his first three NFL seasons, Fairley might not be more than a rotational two-down lineman in the Lions' new defensive scheme. The Lions have used Jason Jones as an inside rusher in sub packages this summer, and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh rarely comes off the field.
Austin said he talked with Fairley after the demotion and that Fairley has "been working really hard to try to get back to being a starter."
"Our job is to get guys to play well, no matter what it takes," Austin said. "Not everybody's going to be a guy that's a self-starter, work over the top all the time. There's different ways that you have to motivate guys and get them to go on, and that's part of our job to figure out, 'Hey, what makes a guy tick? What's going to help him do well?' And so we're doing whatever we can to try to do that, because we feel the guy's super talented, he's a good guy and ... we'd love him to play great, and that's what we're working towards, and I think he's on track now."
The Lions have been looking for ways to motivate Fairley all off-season, and in March, they declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Though it seems unlikely that the Lions will re-sign Fairley at this point, Fairley today said nothing about his demotion has caused him to rethink his future in Detroit.
"What it means, I couldn't tell you to be honest," he said. "I want to be here. I want to stay here in Detroit."
(c)2014 Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services