A boy named Suh — Ndamukong Suh — would be wise to emulate the message from another Johnny Cash song.
He must learn to walk the line.
It’s the same for every defensive player. Stop when the whistle blows. Make sure to hit the quarterback in a different manner than any other position. Control frustration that stems from the blocking techniques — legal or otherwise — being used by the offensive linemen. Avoid retaliation or behavior that results in costly penalties or even ejection.
At the same time, give maniacal all-out effort on every play.
The difficult and contradictory nature of what’s expected from those who make their living in the trenches isn’t lost on Oakland Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour.
"It can get testy at times but I try to leave it on the field,” the six-time Pro Bowl selection told FOXSports.com after Friday’s practice. “Once you’re off, I’m a husband and a dad. My wife will tell you, ‘I don’t know who he is when he plays.’ When you put that helmet on, you go into that gladiator mentality. That’s how I’ve survived double-digit years in the league.
“You’ve got to have a (physical) mentality. To be great, you have to play on the edge.”
Suh is still trying to find that balance.
Detroit’s star second-year defensive tackle will return Sunday against Oakland for the first time since serving a two-game NFL suspension. The reason for his punishment: Intentionally stomping the arm of Green Bay guard Evan Dietrich-Smith after the two became entangled during a Thanksgiving Day matchup.
An unrepentant Suh initially tried to defend such behavior after his ejection from the game. Suh claimed the stomp happened because he was “pushed” by someone else while rising to his feet.
The excuse didn’t fly with NFL brass, which isn’t surprising considering Suh’s history. He has drawn eight personal fouls and four fines in less than two seasons despite repeated warnings from the league office.
“It’s pretty easy to snap like that when someone is intentionally trying to hurt you. I don’t know what the guy was doing to Suh to deserve that,” Raiders tight end Kevin Boss said with a laugh. “He obviously was out of line but it’s one of those moments. Either you’re going to have the level head to keep your cool or you’re going to snap and do something you regret.”
The exact source of Suh’s frustration against Green Bay remains unknown. He had just one tackle through two-plus quarters but the Lions were only trailing 7-0 at the time of the incident. A report surfaced this week that Suh was being provoked by Green Bay’s offensive linemen who were trying to untie his shoelaces at every opportunity.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said it’s easy for linemen to become heated over borderline or illegal tactics that go undetected. Palmer believes more roughhousing is occurring since the umpire was repositioned into the offensive backfield last season because of safety concerns.
“He doesn’t see low blows, hands to the throat, punching, stepping on guys,” Palmer said. “There’s tons of stuff and I don’t even see it all. There’s so much you can get away with on both sides. It’s not just defensively.
“It’s obviously not ok what (Suh) did, but I can understand why guys get frustrated. You can lash out. Sometimes it gets seen and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Palmer had strong praise for Suh as a player, claiming he is the prototype for what an interior defensive lineman should be.
“He’s a combination of so many different things,” Palmer said. “He can take on double-teams. He’s strong enough to hold up. He’s not too big where he gets tired and has to come out of the game. He’s athletic.
“If you can build a Madden (videogame) three-technique, you don’t build the Shaun Rogers/Casey Hampton guy. You build this guy because he can play on every down.”
The biggest challenge Suh now faces is trying to shed the “dirty player” label while not tempering the intensity that helped him win 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Seymour said game officials will monitor players with a history of penalties and fines “a lot closer” than others.
Seymour would know. He drew a $7,500 fine in 2006 for stepping on the head of Indianapolis Colts tackle Tarik Glenn. And if he weren’t ejected for fighting in each of the previous two seasons, Seymour might not have gotten tossed for a borderline blow to the neck of Dolphins guard Richie Incognito during a game 13 days ago.
Seymour also said NFL officials are biased toward offensive players. Seymour cited several examples of things he believes are unfair like runners being able to make contact with facemasks when stiff-arming while defenders are flagged.
“When I first came into the league, it wasn’t close as to how the officials officiate the game now,” said Seymour, who has drawn at least $60,000 in NFL fines this season for illegal play. “You’ve got to hit the quarterback above the waist and below the shoulder. You can’t take him down too hard. You can have a clean shot but if he hits that ground too hard a yellow flag is coming out. You can guarantee that. It can be textbook (tackling) and they’ll still probably fine you for it.
“The game ain’t the same. Trust me: It’s a scoring league. That’s the way the rules are built. We have to play within them but that doesn’t mean they’re fair. I don’t think it’s an even playing ground by any stretch.”
The sooner Suh realizes that and responds accordingly, the better off he will be.