Leaner Fairley is ready to beat expectations

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- At first glance, Nick Fairley doesn't look like himself anymore and that is probably one of the things he would most like to hear.

The appearance of the Detroit Lions' defensive tackle in his giant No. 98 uniform is almost striking because it isn't nearly the size it once was before. He looks almost completely different from the 320-pound player he was last season, the player who couldn't really stay on the field, who danced during stretching and who gave the appearance of not caring much about his appearance.

While Fairley didn't participate fully Tuesday during the Lions' organized team activity as he continues to recover from surgery to help cure his sleep apnea, he just looks like a different player. The sizeable gut that he once had is now hardly noticeable.

Down to somewhere between 290 and 295 pounds, Fairley knew he had to lose the weight even before Detroit declined his fifth-year option earlier this year. It was something he had to do for himself.

"I didn't feel comfortable with myself. My body. I was getting tired so I just felt like if I got down to a lighter weight I'd be leaner, meaner and ready to go," Fairley said.

Before, he used to go to Burger King and McDonald's "on the heavy" and ordered pizza all the time. To lose the weight, he cut out his thrice-weekly trips to the fast food joints and went to -- no joke -- Subway, which coincidentally, fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a pitchman for. By going on the sandwich diet, he actually found himself losing weight.

He added a diet of baked chicken and grilled fish to the plan and the pounds he once carried started falling away. He's trying to become the player he was when the Lions drafted him with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 draft.

"I feel comfortable where I'm at right now," Fairley said.

That's a big key for the not-quite-as-big defensive tackle. He is entering a contract year now after the team declined the option -- a situation he said he both understood but was initially surprised by. A situation he seems to be fine with, but at the same time, he said he felt he would have had his fifth-year option picked up by the club.

And he's in a defense he thinks could really help him turn into that pick Martin Mayhew envisioned.

"It puts us in better position," Fairley said. "Everyone in the defensive line can play any position if you look at it. That kind of puts us in position to make plays for the whole team."

A lot of that comes from new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who is doing more than merely changing the scheme on Fairley. He seems to be dictating his training regimen a little bit more. While Fairley never really stretched during warmups before games, he said he lifts weights a lot.

He had found out about the option not being picked up during a workout in Houston -- so he kind of dispelled his non-working hard notion there. Yet Austin seems focused on making sure Fairley stays in this shape.

"We're going to have structure here," Austin said. "So he's going to have weight lifting. He's going to have things that he's going to have to take care of. So, that's part of our whole program, to make sure there's a structure, there's something to follow, there's a plan to follow.

"There is not going to be a whole lot of freelancing. We want guys to be football players, but to just say, ‘OK, you go ball,' we're not going to do that."

Fairley seems OK with that as long as he keeps the weight off. After minicamp next week, he already has a plan in place. He'll go home, play with his family, hang out with his dog and eat some gumbo with his mom. He'll take a week or so off and then start working out again.

After a year being uncomfortable with his weight, Fairley is back at the weight he wants. If his level of play can also get there, the Lions might finally see a full return on their first-round investment.