ALLEN PARK, Mich. — When Ndamukong Suh joined the Detroit Lions last year, he had a whole summer to become familiar with his new team and coaches before playing his first NFL game.
Nick Fairley's orientation is a lot different.
Fairley signed his contract with the Lions on Thursday night and the defensive lineman from Auburn was on the field Friday morning for the team's first practice. Preseason is often a whirlwind for rookies, but that's even more the case this year because of the lockout that didn't end until earlier this week.
"That's a tough situation he's in, but I think he's smart enough. He seems like he's very bright and he can pick up on a fast-paced scale," Suh said. "It's going to be like a game week, where you have to learn all our plays in a matter of two weeks or a week."
The Lions were forced indoors on a wet morning, and not everyone was able to practice. The signing period for veteran free agents hadn't started yet, meaning those players couldn't participate. Alphonso Smith was wearing a protective boot, and coach Jim Schwartz said the cornerback broke his left foot about three weeks ago and will start on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Offensive tackle Jeff Backus was also unable to do much at practice because of a pectoral injury.
Fairley was healthy and ready, though. The rookie joins Suh on a defensive line that's being called the Silver Crush.
Fairley became the last of Detroit's five draft picks to sign, then tried to get ready as best he could for practice.
"I couldn't sleep at all," Fairley said. "The phone kept ringing."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is healthy again after missing most of last season with injuries. He had surgery on his throwing shoulder in January.
He healed quickly enough that he could throw when the Lions met for informal workouts during the lockout. He was pleased with the way the team looked Friday, though he wasn't sure how much of an effect the offseason training had.
"I know I was happy with the way our No. 1 offense practiced today," Stafford said. "Whether that was because we practiced two weeks in the offseason, I don't know, but it couldn't hurt."
Kicker Jason Hanson, whose 2010 season was ended by a right knee injury, looked comfortable kicking field goals Friday. Hanson, who turned 41 in June, made 12 of 14 field goals last season.
"He wouldn't have gone out there if he wasn't ready, so I didn't have any worries," Schwartz said.
Perhaps no player was more excited to return to the field than linebacker Zack Follett, who was hospitalized in October with a neck injury following a violent helmet-to-helmet hit with a member of the New York Giants. He didn't play the rest of the season.Comment on this story
Follett had plenty of time to rest and build strength. He said he filed for unemployment during the lockout in California, where he's from.
"They rejected me because I have to go through Michigan, and I was too lazy to do that," he said with a laugh. "It was worth a shot."
Now Follett doesn't have to worry about being without work. The lockout is over, and he's playing again.
"Never thought I'd have a helmet on again," Follett said. "This is a big blessing. I'm very thankful."