LIONS INSIDER

Twentyman: Suh is a different player, whether the NFL agrees or not

Posted Sep 25, 2013

Despite an apparent change for the better on and off the field, the NFL continues to treat the fourth-year defensive tackle as though he is playing with reckless abandon

As the senior writer for detroitlions.com, my job affords me behind-the-scenes access to a lot of things that go on at the Detroit Lions practice facility in Allen Park.

One observation I've made over the past two years has been the maturation of the talented – yet controversial – defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

After a decorated rookie season, Suh made headlines time and again during his sophomore stint with his irrational and sometimes volatile behavior on the football field.

Off the field he had a strained relationship with the media and tended to close himself off.

But over the past two seasons -- and especially this year -- Suh has been more engaging and an easier player for staff to work with.

He even admitted to the media earlier this year that he was making a concerted effort to "come out of his shell" a little more and let us in.

That effort has resulted in a distinct transformation both in the locker room and with his play on the field.

Why is it, then, that the NFL continues to treat the fourth-year defensive tackle as though he is playing with reckless abandon?

RUSH TO JUDGMENT

The truth is, Suh has changed the way he's playing on the field, even if the NFL isn't taking notice.

In 2010, Suh was flagged 11 times with eight "major" fouls (Unnecessary Roughness or Unsportsmanlike Conduct). In 2011, that number dropped to eight with five major fouls.

In 2012 and so far in 2013 -- including preseason -- Suh has been flagged a total of five times, with only three of those penalties considered a "major" offense.

In fact, since Thanksgiving Day in 2011 (the infamous "stomping" incident), 24 NFL players have accrued more major violations than Suh.

Suh's most recent flag came Week 1 in the form of a low block on Vikings center John Sullivan during an interception return for a touchdown. The play was illegal, Suh was flagged, and it cost the Lions a touchdown.

The league disciplined him with a $100,000 fine.

While the offense warranted a fine by League standards, the number seems a bit steep.

In that situation, a careless play was taken as intent to injure based on Suh's past transgressions.

Suh has yet to hear if his appeal of the $100,000 fine was successful or not. The hearing was Tuesday.

WALKING THE WALK

In his first three seasons, Suh ducked into the shadows -- right or wrong -- to allow veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams to take the lead on defense. Those players no longer being in Detroit has actually helped Suh come out of his shell, and his teammates have taken notice.

Suh was named a defensive team captain for the first time since the Lions drafted him with the No. 2-overall pick in 2010.

It hasn't stopped with the "C" on Suh's chest, either. He's organized and run players-only meetings at the practice facility and has been more of a vocal leader on the field and in one-on-one interactions with younger teammates.

Suh was among the players who suggested the team run sprints after practice for every personal foul penalty accrued in the previous game.

Teamates, coaches and support staff in Allen Park have seen the difference.

Why can't the NFL?

WHEN WILL THE NFL HIT THE 'RESET' BUTTON?

Suh has been a different man both on and off the field these past two seasons.

At what point will the NFL permit him that growth?

Hypothetically speaking, let's say Suh goes the entire rest of the season without another major penalty. Will the NFL finally push the reset button on Suh, or would he still be considered a "repeat offender" in 2014?

The NFL sent a clear message to Suh with that $100,000 fine: the next incident is likely to result in a suspension.

It's a shame, too, because Suh has changed the way he's played on the field, even if the NFL doesn't want to take notice.