September 2, 2014 at 6:37 am

Slimmer Nick Fairley wins job back as Lions starting defensive tackle

Tackle Nick Fairley has cut down to a more pleasing 305 pounds. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Allen Park — Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley said his demotion to the second-string defense this summer opened his eyes to what the team needed from the 2011 first-round pick.

So, two Saturdays ago, less than a week after the demotion, Fairley did something to help curb his weight gain and earn back his starting job from C.J. Mosley.

“I got a chef,” he said Monday.

And all of those healthy, homemade meals worked. As of Monday, Fairley said he weighed 305 pounds, down from the 315 he weighed when he was demoted. Although his weight can still fluctuate on a daily basis, eating right consistently has helped him stay closer to his ideal weight, and according to the team’s first regular-season depth chart, put him back in the starting lineup.

“I feel a whole lot better just by not putting that bad stuff in my body,” Fairley said. “You feel the energy, and you feel it out there at practice.”

Fairley’s personal chef delivers him meals on a weekly basis, three meals a day for five days — he’s on his own on the weekends with the Lions’ travel schedule. So far, Fairley said the meals have included salmon, baked chicken, meatloaf and stir-fry, and he brings breakfast and lunch to the Lions facility.

“That’s something I actually wanted to do because I knew my weight was a problem,” he said. “For me to do that, I had to eat better, eat healthier. I like to cook but I don’t like to cook every day, so it kind of helped me out in the long haul.”

Eating fast food too frequently had been a problem for Fairley, and he admitted that he ate McDonald’s with his girlfriend on Saturday. But the Lions had their first weekend off since July, and Fairley recognizes that moderation is the key to keeping his weight down.

Fairley said his agent helped him find the local chef and that this was an idea they discussed last year.

“I just never got along with it. I just felt like I could do it on my own,” he said. “I just went to him after (the demotion) and I was like, ‘Let’s give it a shot; let’s give it a try.’ ”

Coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin holding Fairley accountable for his play and ballooning weight ultimately paid off as he continually improved throughout the four exhibition games, and he had a half-sack in the finale in Buffalo Thursday.

“I wouldn’t say nothing changed,” he said. “It just opened my eyes up that they need me to go play more consistent and that’s what they want out of me.”

Consistency has been the buzzword around Fairley since he’s entered the league, but his talent is undeniable. During a stretch of five games in 2012, Fairley had 23 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. But he’s had too many games the past two years in which he hasn’t produced.

Regardless, All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said two weeks ago that Fairley “has an opportunity to be better than me” because he’s a more gifted athlete.

“For Suh to say that about me, it opened (my eyes) up just knowing that he has my back,” Fairley said. “He’s alongside me, putting in the work, so I know he’s there for me.”

Veteran defensive end Jason Jones also has been a spectator of this situation and has been impressed with how Fairley earned back the starting job.

“He’s being professional,” Jones said. “Nick is not a bad guy at all. He’s going through things with the coaches, and they worked it out. He’s back where he should be.”

Fairley couldn’t put his finger on an exact reason for his inconsistencies during his first three NFL seasons, but he said there haven’t been any personal issues bogging him down.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my weight, but we all can agree that a certain weight, my level of play is more consistent,” he said.

Entering a contract year, Fairley would be wise to find a way to be consistent, and if he is, the tandem with Suh can finally reach its massive potential.