Twentyman with a big (or small?) reason Lions fans should be optimistic

Posted Jul 26, 2013

One Lion appears to have made significant change since the end of mini-camp in June

It's the first day of training camp and optimism for the 2013 season couldn't be higher.

The Lions finally begin the process of turning the page on a disappointing 4-12 season last year. In order to do that, though, the Lions will need all hands on deck. Everyone will have to buy in and do his part.

It appears the team is off to a good start on that front.

"Great 1st day of training camp. Every1 passed their condition test. Coach said this is best conditions team he's been a part of on report day," read a tweet by running back Joique Bell Thursday night.

The players reported Thursday and there was one player in particular who looked noticeably different than when he left mandatory mini-camp six weeks ago.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley told he's lost in the neighborhood of 21 pounds in preparation for camp.

That's significant because of what Fairley means to the Lions defense. At times last season, Fairley was the most dominant player on the field, but a injury derailed yet another season for the talented defensive tackle and he finished with 34 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 13 games.

A foot hampered Fairley his rookie season, and all told, injuries have cost the former first-round pick nine games over his first two seasons.

"He's never lacked confidence," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said on the last day on mini-camp in June. "He hasn't been healthy enough to be on the field for a long enough time for us and that's his biggest challenge.

"He's got work to do between now and the start of training camp. It's not just talent, it's not just confidence, it's availability. For his first two years he wasn't available enough for us and this will be a big year for him to be on the field consistently for us."

When healthy, motivated and ready to roll, Fairley has shown the potential to be the most disruptive defensive tackle in the league. He's that gifted. He's got terrific athleticism for a man his size and uses his hands very well.

Paired next to Ndamukong Suh, who's one of the strongest defensive tackles in the NFL, the duo could be special.

The Lions are trying to break in at least four or five new defensive ends along with a new starter at linebacker, cornerback and safety. All of that is made much easier if Suh and Fairley are as disruptive as the Lions think they can be.

But that's on Fairley. Suh has a track record of consistent play over a 16-game season. The Lions are still searching for that from Fairley.

Back in June, Schwartz said Fairley had "work to do between now and the start of training camp." By the looks of it, he took that advice to heart.

Now, can it be applied over a 16-game season? That's the one thing Fairley still has to prove.