Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley recently had surgery, though coach Jim Caldwell wouldn't divulge the nature of the procedure. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Detroit — While Ndamukong Suh made his much anticipated return to the Lions offseason program Tuesday, his fellow starting defensive tackle Nick Fairley was a surprise absence at the first day of organized team activities.
Without explaining the injury, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Fairley recently underwent surgery.
“He had a procedure,” Caldwell said Tuesday night at a Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field.
Caldwell said he’s “not certain” Fairley will return for OTAs this week — there are 10 total practices the next three weeks — and didn’t provide a timetable for his recovery.
“He’s got a medical issue he’s dealing with,” Caldwell said. “He’ll be back as soon as he’s recovered.”
Multiple players at the event said they didn’t know Fairley had surgery, and one veteran player said the procedure was something minor and non-football-related, which would be good news for a Lions defense that relies heavily on interior pressure for Suh and Fairley, a pair of first-round picks.
Cornerback Chris Houston, who recently underwent toe surgery, was also absent from the start of OTAs.
As for Suh, who was heavily scrutinized for missing voluntary minicamp last month, Caldwell said the All-Pro arrived in good shape Tuesday.
“It was great to have him there, obviously, and as you would anticipate, he’s in impeccable shape and ready to go,” Caldwell said.
At the event, which was a fundraiser for Detroit’s Eastern Market, Suh, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush were in a VIP section in which media weren’t allowed.
Suh regularly has skipped multiple voluntary workouts during his career, but he faced increased criticism this year for a few reasons.
■First, last year was Suh’s first as a captain.
■Second, this is Caldwell’s first season as coach and his staff is bringing a new scheme.
■Third, Suh is in the midst of a long-term contract negotiation because his rookie deal can be terminated after this season.
Caldwell praised Suh’s leadership recently and said there was no reason for Suh to address the team about his absence.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Caldwell said. “He didn’t break any rules. It’s all voluntary.”
Caldwell also reiterated that he wants as much time with every player as possible, but understands that there’s only so much he can ask of them because of the mandates in the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
“We abide by the rules,” Caldwell said, “so to have him here, excited about what we’re doing and getting an opportunity to teach our system, those things are very important for us.”
Taste of the Lions a treat
Nearly 2,000 people attended the second annual Taste of the Lions, which featured food from more than 25 Metro Detroit restaurants.
Most of the players, coaches and executives were in attendance and signed autographs and took photographs with fans.
Johnson, Stafford, Bush and Caldwell were all in a VIP area in which fans could make a $150 donation to Eastern Market for their autograph and a photo opportunity.
“Anytime that you can get involved with something that’s going to bring great service to your community, I think it’s very, very important,” Caldwell said. “Because oftentimes you’ll find these guys are looking for ways to give back, and this is just one of those.”
Caldwell said he’s taking different position groups out for dinners, already footing the bill on meals with the offensive line and linebackers. The players choose and there’s no price limit, he said.
“That’s no fun,” he said. “That’s not taking someone to dinner. What kind of dinner is that?”