MIKE O'HARA

When the Lions look for leadership along the defensive line, they'll look to Ndamukong Suh

Posted May 30, 2013

Suh's leadership style is for teammates to follow his path to sack the quarterback, or through the holes he bashes in opposing offensive lines to disrupt running plays

The rush to push Ndamukong Suh into a more active leadership role on the Lions should be tempered with the understanding that leadership cannot be campaigned or, nor is it often effectively bestowed. It means more than words on a resume or a letter sewn to the front of a jersey.
Ndamukong SuhNdamukong Suh (Photo: T. Altman/Detroitlions.com)

In pro football, some positions automatically require the intangible qualities of leadership for success. Quarterback is one of those positions. Matthew Stafford gives the Lions such leadership. Players believe in him and follow him.

Suh can be eloquent and charming in interview sessions, but he is not especially vocal around his teammates. He is not an outgoing leader who rallies the troops with words.

That does not mean Suh cannot be a good leader on the Lions' defense. His work ethic and preparation are examples for any player to follow. So is his commitment to excel on the field.

And don't forget his ability. He ranks in the top echelon of the NFL's defensive tackles.

His leadership style is for teammates to follow his path to sack the quarterback, or through the holes he bashes in opposing offensive lines to disrupt running plays.

Suh is approaching his fourth season with the Lions. He has reached a point in his career where we will find out more about the depth and strength of his leadership qualities this year.

The Lions need a leader to emerge on their defensive line, which has been built to be the foundation of the defense.

As the roster is currently comprised, Suh is the only remaining starter on the defensive line he joined as a rookie in 2010. In this offseason, Cliff Avril departed for Seattle as a free agent, and Kyle Vanden Bosch was released.

Corey Williams, a solid veteran tackle, is a free agent who has not been re-signed. Williams was one of the leaders on defense, but his playing time was limited last season because of knee injuries. It would not surprise me if the Lions somehow hold a roster spot open to bring Williams back if his knee is healthy.

Regardless of how the unit is built on opening day, when the Lions look for leadership on the defensive line, all eyes have to be on Suh. He is the bell cow, the one to follow.

Suh has to be Suh. He cannot undergo a personality change to be a vocal leader. He can be a quiet leader by example.

"I'm quiet in my own ways," Suh said this week. "When I feel the need to speak up, and it's important, when I have something on my mind, I think anybody who knows me, and my coaches definitely know, I'm not afraid to speak up.

"Leadership is something that just comes along as it goes. You don't want to force it. You don't want to push yourself on being a leader because, usually, that becomes a rebellion-type thing. You let it come as it goes and just let it be natural.

"I definitely feel I'm a leader. I led a Nebraska team to some good games and some good championships. It's been fun. I think I've had good work. My past has had some good leadership stuff."

Head coach Jim Schwartz has been consistent in his comments about leadership. He insists that it cannot be forced.

"Everybody does it a little different way," Schwartz said Wednesday. "It might not get people's attention outside of our locker room, or maybe outside of a meeting room or maybe standing on the perimeter watching practice.

"If you do the right things, if you work hard, if you're setting a good example, if you're holding your teammates accountable, then you can do it with a lot of different personalities."

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was asked last week about Suh not being a vocal leader.

"You know how Suh is," Tulloch said. "Suh is a quiet guy. I'll tell you one thing. He's very dominating, so I can't get mad at him. He can be as quiet as he wants to be."

Suh can be stubborn and determined to do things his own way. However, those traits are part of what put him in the upper echelon of the league's defensive linemen.

In whatever fashion he plays a leadership role this year, he has to play himself.

"You always want to be authentic to yourself," Suh said. "If you're not authentic to yourself, nobody else is going to believe it. If you can't believe it yourself, what's the point?"