ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, demoted last week from starter to second-team, is back "on track."
That’s the assessment from Teryl Austin, the team’s defensive coordinator.
"Our job is to get our guys to play well no matter what it takes," Austin said before Wednesday’s practice. "Not everybody is going to be a guy that’s a self-start worker all the time. There’s different ways that you have to motivate guys and get them going. That’s part of our job to figure out what makes a guy tick, what’s going to help him play well.
"We’re doing whatever we can to try to do that. We feel the guy is super talented. He’s a good guy. We just want him to play great. That’s what we’re working towards. I think he’s on track now."
C.J. Mosley took Fairley’s spot in the lineup last week against Oakland and Mosley is expected to start again Friday night against Jacksonville at Ford Field.
Austin said the decision to make the change was simple.
"C.J. was playing really well," Austin said. "At the time, he (Fairley) wasn’t. Since that time, Nick’s done a good job. He’s gotten better. He’s practiced better.
"We still need Nick to play well for us this year. At this point, we’re still pushing Nick. He’s starting to push and he’s doing some better things. I would expect that he’s going to play better."
Fairley, a first-round draft pick in 2011, is entering a contract year, a time when most professional athletes are at their best.
Even lazy players typically become motivated with a long-term deal on the line.
Fairley, 26, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season because the Lions, tired of his inconsistency and hoping to motivate him, chose not to pick up the option year for 2015 on his original rookie contract.
Fairley appeared to be responding during the offseason, dropping from 320 pounds (or more) last season to less than 300.
But he clearly put a lot of that weight back on, especially in his midsection, which apparently hampered his performance.
"With big guys, you will always have that," Austin said, when asked about the problems with Fairley’s weight. "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.
"Sometimes when you change routines (during the offseason), you have some ups and downs. I think that’s where Nick was. He’s starting to figure out where he needs to be. He’s working toward that goal."
Defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, is on track to possibly make his first appearance of the preseason on Friday.
Ansah, the fifth pick overall in 2013, was taken off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list early last week and continues to make progress.
"He’s responded well," coach Jim Caldwell said. "We got him into a little bit more scrimmage plays in practice. We increased them on a daily basis.
"We’ll check with the doctors after today’s practice (to determine) where he is. Hopefully, he’ll be able to get some snaps (Friday)."