He has built a rep among his peers for being a rough player since coming to the Lions as a rookie in 2010, and a rap sheet with the NFL office for plays that caused him to be disciplined in the form of fines and a suspension.
Suh, who is in the top handful of defensive tackles in the NFL, can be cast in the role of villain at the drop of a referee’s yellow flag. He has reprised that role for an illegal block delivered against Vikings center John Sullivan in the Lions’ 34-24 victory over Minnesota at Ford Field.
It is almost certain that the NFL will fine Suh for the play, which is common practice for all players who get personal fouls in any game, whether in the preseason or regular season.
Most of the penalties draw little notice. But it is different in Suh’s case, because of prior instances – most of them committed in his first two years.
As a rookie, he was fined for roughing up Jake Delhomme in an exhibition game. His most flagrant foul was a stomping incident involving Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day of 2011.
But last year, Suh was flagged only once for a personal foul. Despite evidence that he has learned to rein himself in, the legend of the villain was as large as ever.
The larger issue for Suh is what Sunday’s penalty has done to his reputation and image, and his development as a leader on the Lions. Suh has been a commanding presence this year, and his teammate voted him a captain.
Did one bad play undo all the good that Suh had accomplished this year leading up to the season-opener against the Vikings?
Good question, and the answer will come later.
I can’t imagine the penalty will cause a ripple among his teammates.
Nationally, it’s another matter.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported early Monday that Suh was certain to face discipline by the NFL. In a TV appearance, Schefter referred to the play that drew the penalty as "clearly dirty."
It was clearly ill advised, given the circumstance, but "clearly dirty" is open to question. Clearly, in the heat of the moment, it was not premeditated.
On the play in question Sunday, linebacker
Suh, trailing Levy by several yards, delivered a low block on Sullivan. It was an unnecessary block. Levy would have scored if Suh had simply watched him run into the end zone.
Suh appeared to have his head just in front of Sullivan’s waist, but he ultimately made contact with his knees. Sullivan did not leave the game, but some teammates expressed anger over the play after the game.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was somewhat circumspect in expressing his views.
"I got to know Suh at the Pro Bowl last year, and he’s a good dude," Allen was quoted as saying. "This is a fraternity in the NFL. You can’t take a dude’s legs out from behind on an interception when he’s running down the field.
"To me, there’s just no room for that."
Suh said he talked to Sullivan at halftime, and said he was not trying to hit Sullivan in the knees.
"I’m not going for his knees," Suh told reporters. "He knows that. We had a great conversation running out at halftime. And he understood. My aim was his waist to cut him off."
In his weekly press conference Monday, Lions Coach Jim Schwartz called the block unnecessary but did not think there was any intent to injure Sullivan.
"Obviously, it cost us," Schwartz said. "It cost us a touchdown. It wasn’t very far behind the play, but it was behind the play. It was an offensive lineman who wasn’t going to catch Levy.
"I don’t think there was any attempt to injure. It wasn’t 40 yards behind the play. It wasn’t hitting the guy from behind – some of the things we’ve seen from other players recently, going low and hitting guys from behind."
What it was, was another episode in portraying Suh as a villain – fair or foul.