O’Hara: Suh needs to be great, not good, in 2012

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Ndamukong Suh is judged by a higher standard than the average defensive tackle, and he should be. He has to live up to a high standard – his own.

Suh was great in his rookie season with the Lions in 2010 – great and dominating enough to be first-team All-Pro.

Suh had a sophomore slump last year. He went from great to good in a tumultuous season in which his stock fell and his public image took a beating. At the end of the season, Suh categorized his performance as “indifferent.” It would be hard to argue with that.

Suh faced considerable public scrutiny in the offseason. More important, in terms of Suh being great again, was the self-analysis of his game that he undertook.

He didn’t like what he saw and took steps in the offseason to change it. After the Lions’ first training-camp practice Friday, Suh was asked if being good is good enough for him.

“My own opinion, is good good enough?” Suh said, repeating the question. “No. Not at all. I would hope to be great.”

Since he joined the Lions as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, Suh has had a global view of his position on and off the field. He has referenced some of the greats who came before him, and he did it again on Friday.

“I plan to be like guys that I’ve seen play – Warren Sapp, Mean Joe Green,” Suh said. “Those are memorable names for what they’ve done on the football field and what they stand for.”

As a rookie, Suh’s play conjured comparisons to players of that caliber, including the late Reggie White, one of the NFL’s immortals.

Suh had 10 sacks and was such a dominating presence that at one time, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said: “I’ve never seen that player.”

Cunningham’s meaning was clear. He’d never seen Suh’s equal. But it was a different story in 2011. Suh fell off to four sacks, and he gained a reputation among fans and some players as a dirty player.

His season bottomed out on Thanksgiving Day when he stomped on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. Suh was suspended for the next two games by Commissioner Roger Goodell, and his reputation was scarred.

Part of the rebuilding process came when Suh and Cunningham had a long talk at one point in the offseason. Cunningham told Suh that he had set himself up to fail by setting such a high standard with his rookie performance.

The front four is the key to the Lions’ defense. If they dominate up front, it sets up everybody else – especially the secondary – to make plays.

At his best, Suh is a vital cog in that line. If he’s just good, the entire unit suffers. Suh saw a flaw in his performance last year.

“I think it was my approach,” he said. “I didn’t like my approach, as I look back on that particular season, especially compared to my rookie season.”

He didn’t give any details on what he thought was missing.

“Really, just kind of the mindset and what my particular goals were,” Suh said. “I really found some things in my game I need to focus on before I can get to the exciting pieces of making sacks and doing all those particular things.”

The Lions intend to move Suh around more on the line, which should free him up to make more plays.

“I look back on my rookie season when we did a little bit of that,” Suh said. “There are some fun things you get to do when you move around.”

Suh said the word “fun” often in Friday’s session with the media, and he smiled often, which wasn’t always the case last year.

One thing that isn’t fun is being involved in controversy, and another developed just before the start of training camp. On Thursday, it was reported that Suh is being sued for more than $1 million by a woman who was a passenger in Suh’s car in a one-car accident in Portland in December.

Suh began Friday’s media session with a short statement, saying he could not comment on the suit because of a pending legal case.But he reacted quickly when asked if it was a distraction to him.

“You see the smile on my face?” Suh said. “I’m excited. I’m excited to be here for football.”