Voluntary minicamp opens without Suh

Suh is entering the last year of his contract.

Gregory Shamus

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Dominic Raiola, a center with 13 years of NFL experience, left Hawaii to return for the Detroit Lions’ voluntary offseason workouts. Stephen Tulloch, a linebacker with eight years in the league, came back from Miami, Fla.

Meanwhile, controversial defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh remains a no-show.

The team started a three-day, voluntary minicamp Tuesday, a special perk granted only to teams that made a coaching change since last season.

For the Lions, this was the first time they’ve been on the field together under new coach Jim Caldwell and his staff, instead of just in the weight room or a meeting room. They’re taking this time to install new schemes, build new relationships and, perhaps, develop a new culture.

Is it the end of the world that Suh isn’t here? No.

But it’s wrong.

It’s one thing to miss the training drills. No one questions whether Suh will return in the physical condition expected of an elite athlete.

But it’s another thing to skip these practices, even if nobody will remember once Suh starts wreaking havoc on quarterbacks in the fall.

What happens is, it puts other team leaders, like Raiola and Tulloch, on the spot and forces them to address the issue.

"What’s the issue?" Tulloch said, smiling. "I understand he’s a captain, but Suh’s the last person I’m worried about not being prepared. He’ll be here soon enough."

Raiola added: "It’s voluntary. I’m not going to say it’s right. I’m not going to say it’s wrong. We’d love to have him here. We miss him.

"He’ll be here when he’s ready. He’ll have to pick up his end of the leadership bargain when he’s back. He’ll be back soon. Whatever he’s missing, he’ll pick up."

Suh is in the middle of negotiations for a possible contract extension. He can become a free agent following the upcoming season.

Asked whether he thinks it’s important for players to be here even for the voluntary workouts, especially with a new coach in place, Tulloch answered:

"I think so. But he’ll be here when he’s ready to be here. Whatever situation him and management are working out, it’ll work out soon enough and he’ll be here to help this team win.

"Everybody’s different how they handle things. Suh’s handling it the way it best fits himself. At the end of the day, it’s a business."

The argument can be made that Suh’s absence is creating an unnecessary distraction for a team looking for a new start following a 7-9 season that led to the firing of coach Jim Schwartz.

But Suh has a knack for creating controversy.

Raiola conceded that the situation is "drawing attention that we don’t need around here right now."

"We don’t need that kind of attention that people are assuming," Raiola said.

Tulloch insisted it’s really not a problem for the players, despite what others might think. Not five months before the opening game.

"We’re not distracted by Suh," he said. "I think the media makes it bigger than it is. We know what (No.) 90 can do and we know he’ll be here and prepared to play."

The next phase of the Lions’ offseason program — the OTAs (organized team activities) — begins on May 20.

Suh has attended those sessions in the past while skipping this initial part.

Asked when he expects Suh back, Caldwell said: "We have talked about it. It may change and adjust. When he shows up, he’ll be here."

Caldwell reiterated that he would prefer every player attend, but there’s not much more he can say under the collective-bargaining rules because the workouts are "voluntary."

"Believe me, there are some (players) through my years of coaching that weren’t there early on (for offseason workouts) that I trust, and they came back and did an awfully great job," Caldwell said. "I’m anticipating the same thing will happen in his case."

EXTRA POINT

Cornerback Chris Houston, who’s hampered by a toe injury, also didn’t attend the practice.

Receiver Calvin Johnson, coming off knee surgery, was on the field but didn’t participate.

Others present and not taking part in the drills included receiver Ryan Broyles (Achilles’ tendon), defensive lineman Jason Jones (knee), defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (shoulder), running back Joique Bell, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, offensive guard Rob Sims, safety Glover Quin, cornerback Jonte Green, linebacker Ashlee Palmer, fullback Jed Collins and defensive tackle Vaughn Martin.

Running back Montell Owens (knee), tight end Michael Williams (hand) and linebacker Cory Greenwood (shoulder) were back on the field after spending much or all of last season on injured reserve.