Suh’s impact on Lions’ D increasing his value

The Lions tried but were unable to re-sign Ndamukong Suh last summer.

Steven Flynn

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Even though Ndamukong Suh has been an All-Pro player in the past and is one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive tackles, you couldn’t have blamed the Detroit Lions if they refused to enter the free-agent sweepstakes to keep him after this season.

At least that’s the way it seemed a couple months ago.

The Lions had been either a bad or mediocre defense, for the most part, during Suh’s first four years in Detroit. You can argue that he kept them from being even worse, which is true, but the bottom line is that it wasn’t anywhere near a championship-caliber defense with him.

So, under those circumstances, how do you justify, in a salary-cap system, paying a defensive tackle anywhere near what the Houston Texans gave their versatile D-lineman J.J. Watt (six years for $100 million with more than half of it guaranteed)?

The dynamics, however, have changed considerably. Not only is Suh creating mass disruption for opposing offenses, it’s actually helped turn the Lions (7-2) into a potentially legitimate Super Bowl contender because they’re now the top-ranked defense in the league, largely because of their front four.

From this perspective, that end product is a factor in evaluating Suh’s value.

"He’s a beast out there, I don’t know how else to describe it," teammate Calvin Johnson said.

Suh, who is 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, singlehandedly set the tone on the first series in last Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins with a tackle for a 2-yard loss and a 10-yard sack. He went on to make two more tackles for losses later in the game.

But it’s not statistically that Suh makes his true impact. Opponents are forced to put so much emphasis on him, whether they want to or not (the Dolphins didn’t want to at the start but were forced into it), that it creates openings for his teammates.

Suh is the quintessential example of an athlete making everyone else around him better.

The Lions have overcome the loss of several key players over the first nine weeks, including on their surprisingly improved defense, but they probably wouldn’t be able to overcome the absence of that domino-like effect that Suh provides.

"They pay a lot of attention to him," coach Jim Caldwell said. "The guy is an unusual physical specimen. He’s been outstanding."

Safety Glover Quin has found out in his two seasons with the Lions that Suh, one of the more polarizing characters in the league with a reputation for being a dirty player, is a little different than what he expected from afar.

Quin played for the Houston Texans two years ago when Suh kicked quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin in a Thanksgiving Day game, which led to a $30,000 fine.

"I looked at the film and I’m like ‘Hey, I think he tried to do it. It looked like his foot sped up.’" Quin said. "Now that I’m on the team with him, I haven’t seen none of that stuff the last two years."

Quin said that Suh actually has a much softer side than most would think considering the reputation. He went so far as to call Suh "a teddy bear."

"I thought he was this big, tough guy," Quin said. "But deep down inside, he’s a softie…off the field."

So why doesn’t the public see that side occasionally?

"I’m an introvert," Suh said. "So it’s hard for me to let people in."

Quin went out to describe the Suh that he’s come to know.

"He’s soft spoken. That gets confused with being whatever you want to call it. But he’s a great teammate. I love the guy. I love to play with him."

Quin also likes to "mess" with the big burly one.

"I mess with Suh all the time," Quin said. "I’m in his face, in his ear. There’s some games where I feel like I need to get under Suh’s skin because we need his impact up front. We need him to be engaged early.

"I’ve seen sometimes where he’ll show up in the fourth quarter in key situations. I’m like, ‘We need you early and often in this game.’"

The guy is an unusual physical specimen. He’s been outstanding.

Jim Caldwell

Besides Suh’s ability to manhandle other NFL players with his brute strength at times, perhaps his most impressive quality is how durable he’s been so far in his career.

In a violent sport where injuries are so frequent, even to the biggest and baddest, Suh has played in 71 of 73 games since he entered the league.

And the only two games he missed were because of a suspension following his infamous foot "stomp" three years ago against Green Bay in another nationally televised Thanksgiving game.

"It’s one of the biggest things I pride myself on, being able to maintain and being able to play at a high level for an extended period of time during games and then being able to have longevity going through seasons," Suh said.

That durability is another reason why Suh’s value is soaring.

The Lions tried but were unable to re-sign him last summer. The team then decided when training camp started to table contract negotiations until after the season.

President Tom Lewand and general manger Martin Mayhew said at the time that they remained optimistic a deal eventually would be worked out to keep Suh in Detroit, but there were later reports suggesting otherwise.

Rumors circulated that Suh wanted to play in New York for the extra exposure. He continues to refuse to discuss his impending free agency or his future.

The consensus opinion is that he’s probably headed elsewhere, but for now the Lions are going to enjoy what they’ve got.

How much their success this season could sway Suh’s ultimate decision remains to be seen.

"It’s obviously great that we’re winning games and being recognized a little bit, not much, for our defensive statistics and things of that nature," Suh said.

"I’ve always had fun here playing in Detroit. I look forward to continuing to have fun with this team."

Next year, too?

"Let’s talk about football," Suh said, smiling. "I love to talk about football."

INJURY UPDATE

— Offensive guard Larry Warford is wearing a brace on his left knee and not expected to play for at least a few weeks, but he said there are no plans for surgery at this point.

Coach Jim Caldwell added that a return by Warford this season hasn’t been ruled out yet.

— Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who also was injured in the Miami game, participated in Wednesday’s practice, at least on a limited basis, while wearing braces on both knees. He said his chances of playing next Sunday in Arizona are "pretty good."

— Receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, who both returned from ankle injuries to play last Sunday, sat out Wednesday’s practice.

Johnson, however, suggested that his ankle came through the game in good shape.

"No worse for the wear," he said.

— Tight ends Joseph Fauria (ankle) and Eric Ebron (hamstring) both took part in practice. Fauria has missed the last six games, and Ebron the last three.