Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh met with Commissioner Roger Goodell but shouldn’t change playing style.
Detroitâs Ndamukong Suh is not a dirty player. Donât believe the hype.
Suhâs meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the Lionsâ bye week says more about the state of the leagueâs inconsistent officiating, ruling and fining systems than it does about the perceived reckless play of the second-year All-Pro defensive tackle.
Suh is, by all accounts, the premier player at his position. He is reestablishing â if not redefining â what it means to be an elite interior defensive lineman. In doing so, he has clearly become the anti-Albert Haynesworth.
There should be no blurred line when making a distinction between King Ndamukong and the likes of Fat Albert, a convicted face-stomper who, although dirty, did once set a $100-million standard for 4-3 three-technique tackles â coincidentally, playing for Suhâs current coach Jim Schwartz, who was then the Titansâ defensive coordinator.
No doubt Suh has a non-stop motor and a mean streak; but if he is being labeled a âdirtyâ player, then there is something wrong with the NFL, not Suh. Outside of the entire Pittsburgh Steelers defense, Suh has been enemy No. 1 in Commissioner Goodellâs attempt to âclean upâ pro football.
Since being selected No. 2 overall out of Nebraska in 2010, Suh has been fined a grand total of $42,500 â chunking $20,000 for giving Cincinnatiâs Andy Dalton the redheaded stepchild treatment this preseason; $15,000 for a right forearm shiver on Chicagoâs Jay Cutler in Week 13 last year; and $7,500 for a facemask-headlock slam of Clevelandâs overmatched old man Jake Delhomme last preseason.
Upon further review, all of those fines came on plays that were obviously aggressive and violent but certainly not âdirtyâ â at least by the traditional NFL definition of the word. Crotch-punching Conrad Dobler was downright below-the-belt âdirty.â Helmet-to-helmet, late-hitting, pile-spearing Rodney Harrison was notoriously âdirty.â Head-kicking, finger-snapping, face-spitting, jaw-breaking Bill Romanowski personified âdirty.â But Suh? No way.
Suh is a 6'4", 307-pound, 24-year-old physical freak ready to break the mold. As strange as it sounds, he is a man among boys even in the NFL, where the biggest, strongest, fastest and meanest reside. There has not been an athlete with the combination of size, speed, strength, technique and ferocious force that Suh possesses since the late, great Reggie White.
âIâm just a different breed. I hate to say that, but itâs kind of like, no athlete in the NFL is like any other,â explained Suh. âBut thereâs guidelines that everybody needs to follow.â
Suhâs timing couldnât be worse. He walked onto the NFL gridiron just as the established rules of the sport were essentially being reinvented on the fly by Commissioner Goodell. The type of unabated physicality that made Suh a Heisman Trophy finalist with the Huskers was and is in the process of being minimized.
Protecting quarterbacks and ball-carriers is top priority; Suh will have to fall in line. And heâs trying. During his off week, Suh went to New York to watch film with Goodell, in an effort to clarify what about No. 90âs game is considered âdirtyâ by both the zebras who throw yellow flags between the lines and the zoot suits who levy fines with super-slow-mo, second-guessed certainty after the game is over.
Even though his meeting with Goodell went well, Suh is well aware he hasnât written his last check to the league office. He is a target, ironically, because of his unique abilities to seek and destroy his own chosen targets. Blessed with physical capabilities matched by few humans â remember, the man ran a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash, posted 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and skied for a 35.5-inch vertical at the Scouting Combine â Suh knows all about playing by his own rules. And that sword cuts both ways.
âYou look at Tom Brady. When he gets hit, you always wonder if thereâs going to be a flag. Thereâs certain things that may be called for him that may not be called for other quarterbacks just because of his stature or whatever, how he is in the league,â Suh vented.
âThatâs the same thing with defensive players. I think my hits may look a little different because of the type of strength and athleticism that I have, compared to some other defensive linemen. Itâs just the way the world works.â
Then again, being the best has always been a âdirtyâ game full of name-calling from those who canât keep up. But donât expect Suh to slow down.
âIâm not going to change the way I play,â said Suh. âI feel that the way Iâm playing and the way I have played in the past is continuing to play within the rules.â
by Nathan Rush