Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Lions’

Public enemy #90

Posted: March 17, 2013 in NFL Profiles
Tags: , , ,

Image

The Bogeyman. Boo Radley. Ndamukong Suh.

Two of those characters are fictional, preying on the fears and over-active imaginations of children, scaring them into good behaviour, paralysing them into submission when they overstep the marks set by well intentioned elders. The third character? He’s real, and according to some, a very genuine bad guy. Except he’s no shadow creeping around after lights out, he’s the Detroit Lions stand-out defensive tackle. Striking terror into the hearts of opponents, a man who will stoop to any level to enforce his dominance in the trenches. A man only too aware of his place in the nations conscience, a man who accepts his role as the bad guy, without giving a care as to whether there’s any truth in the claims. A man at ease with himself and what he brings to the game. And it’s in that most public of domains that he really makes an impression.

The 6’4” 300lb defensive tackle started his collegiate career in 2005, for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, though his true freshman year was short lived, playing just a pair of games before a season ending knee surgery led to him receiving a medical redshirt.

He returned in 2006 and played all 14 games as a backup defensive lineman. He made 19 tackles, including 8 for loss, and 3.5 sacks, despite his bit-part role coming off the bench.

As a Sophomore, he started in11 of 12 appearances and totalled 34 tackles, and blocked an extra point against Texas a&m.

It was in 2008 that Suh’s numbers really began to stack up, and the national media began to take notice of the young lineman. A team high 76 total tackles (19 for loss) and 7.5 sacks in his 13 starts, Suh also made 2 interceptions and returned them both for scores. He also scored one touchdown on offense, lining up as a Fullback and catching a two yard pass against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Suh became the first Cornhusker lineman to lead the team in tackles since 1973, and for the first time he made the All Big-12 First team.

In his senior year, Suh made 85 total tackles (24 for loss) and 12 sacks. Another interception added to his total, and another 3 blocked kicks, which was a Cornhusker season record. He led the defense to the Big-12 championship game against the Texas Longhorns and personally made 12 tackles (7 for loss-a single game record) and was awarded MVP of the game, which ended in a narrow loss. Nebraska’s first ever bowl shutout (and the first shutout in the 32 year history of the Holiday Bowl) against Arizona followed shortly after.

The awards came thick and fast in that senior year, Heisman trophy finalist, AP National player of the year, National defensive player of the year, first team All American, Big-12 defensive player of the year. The young man from Portland had become one of the most decorated stars in college football history.

Coaches and analysts across the NFL were watching Suh’s progress intently, and they liked what they saw. Mel Kiper of ESPN reported him as being ‘Maybe the most dominating defensive tackle I’ve seen in 32 years’

The Detroit Lions pulled the trigger on Suh with the 2nd pick of the 2010 draft in an attempt to shore up a defense that had given up 31 points per game in 2009.

Suh had impressed in the combine, bench pressing 32 reps of 225lbs, and showing off an impressive 35.5” vertical leap, the highest recorded by a defensive tackle in a decade.

The young lineman agreed a 5 year $68 million deal with the Lions on august 3rd. He’d be guaranteed $40 million.

Suh had already accounted for some of that fortune, having donated $2.6 million back to the University of Nebraska, which remains the largest single charitable donation of any former player.

Ndamukung hit the ground running in his rookie year in the paid ranks, starting all 16 games, and making 66 tackles, 10 qb sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown. Those 6 points remain his only contribution to the Lions scoring charts, (A keen soccer player, in 2010 he attempted an extra point attempt in place of injured kicker Jason Hanson, but it hit an upright and bounced right) but his impact elsewhere has been felt ever since. He finished his rookie year with a bundle of Rookie of the Year awards from a variety of sources. Though his numbers in 2011 and 2012 failed to match his impressive first year stats (71 tackles and 12 sacks combined) he has found himself double and even triple teamed week after week by all opponents. Teams have had to gameplan for the impact he can have, even if it leaves other Lions unblocked. Suh himself doesn’t let the perceived drop off bother him, he has said that he is “a better player” than he was in his rookie year, and some careful studying of game film backs up his claims. The awards have kept coming though, despite the shrinking numbers, with pro-bowl appearances in 2010 and 2012, first and second team all-pro votes in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Now of course, there is another side to the talented tackle, a side that threatens to overshadow all his talent and athleticism. You don’t get voted as the NFL’s most hated player (by fans) and dirtiest player (by fellow professionals) without raising a few eyebrows along the way.

Suh received 9 personal foul penalties during his first two seasons as a pro, more than any other player in the same time frame. He accumulated fines totalling over $40k in the process. At least one of those fines seemed undeserved, a hit on Jay Cutler was called as unnecessary roughness, a forearm to the back of the QB’s head. The replay suggested it was a clean shove, and Cutler was beyond the line of scrimmage and clearly a runner. Suh’s bad boy reputation was already working against him. He’d again find himself in hot water for a hit on Cutler in 2010, following a Greco-Roman style takedown on Monday night football, as the league and sports media world was divided into two camps about the legality of the hit. Ultimately it was ruled clean (and Cutler agreed publicly) but it certainly kept Suh in the headlines.

Live on national television on thanksgiving 2011, came the first of two career defining incidents,. During a home game against the Packers, Suh became embroiled in a tussle with the Pack’s Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had been pushing his buttons all game. Suh snapped, slamming Dietrich-Smith’s head to the ground 3 times, and following up with a stomp to the prone center’s arm.

Suh was ejected from the game and suspended for 2 further contests without pay. Though he appealed, it was rejected. The Lions and in particular head coach Jim Schwartz were quick to accept their players wrongdoing, even before he admitted it himself. The incident, and Suh’s pained attempts at protesting his innocence were prime examples of how he’d gained his reputation.

A year later, Suh again found himself in the centre of a thanksgiving controversy. As he was dragged to the ground during a play, Suh’s foot flailed and caught Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub in the groin.

The media were quick to jump on Suh’s case, but this was one instance where his reputation seemed to have done him no favours at all. No matter how many times you watch the footage, it’s impossible to decide for certain whether the ‘kick’ was intentional or not. Yet he was fined $30,000 for the incident and suffered outrage from virtually all commentators. Matt Schaub himself led the tirade against Suh, claiming that Suh was ‘Not Houston Texan-worthy’. He was wrong. Suh would command a place on any of the other 31 franchises in the NFL, to think otherwise is idiocy.

It’s not only on the field that Suh has courted controversy either, a number of driving offences (one dating back to his Nebraska days) have kept Detroit beat writers in copy throughout his career. Ordinarily it would raise few eyebrows for a wealthy young man to pick up some tickets in a high performance car, but when the young man in question is the NFL’s own Mr Evil, it’s hardly surprising that people pick them up and use them as a stick to beat him with. Ndamukong himself doesn’t let it bother him, as he told the Chicago Tribune. “People are always going to have their opinions, it’s not going to hurt my feelings” the tackle said.

So just who is Ndamukong Suh? A Street thug made good? The innocent victim of a league-wide conspiracy to hold him down?

I guess he’s both of them, in part.

He plays with a toughness, a brutality. Yes, a thuggishness that his position needs. And yet now the league has popped this particular genie out of the bottle, they can’t get him back in, no matter how hard they hit him with fines and try to force some change in his game.

But what we need to remember, is that Ndamukung Suh is still a young man. He’s made mistakes, lots of them. He’ll probably make some more. He’ll take more fines, he’ll upset more officials and analysts. Yet those who know their literature will remind you that in the end, even old Boo Radley turned out to be a good guy.