Perhaps the most talked-about and most talkative player on the Detroit Lions roster this year has been defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
Between all of the attention Fairley has gotten and the full-scale overhaul of the Lions' defensive end position, it seems like people may have forgotten about a boy named Suh.
That's Ndamukong Suh, costar of the hit reality series Splash defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. You remember the one? Second overall pick in the 2010 draft? Rookie of the Year with 10 sacks? Has 22 career sacks in his first three years?
You know, this guy?
OK, well, some know him as this guy.
Perhaps Suh's penchant for toeing the line of what's allowed (and the groins of opposing players) has shifted the narrative from Suh the rising young star to Suh the delinquent. Suh's personal foul numbers combined with his declining sophomore stats have pulled the "overrated" label Suh's way several times.
So naturally, with the mainstream going full steam on the "Suh's a dirty player and also not even that good" bandwagon, he fell out of the public spotlight entirely when he stopped giving people headlines that fit within that particular narrative.
His third season was a lot more like his first, with him notching eight sacks and keeping his nose clean. That is, of course, except for the Matt Schaub incident that brought him back into the spotlight for about five days because of a play that—if performed by any other player—should have appeared on a blooper reel accompanied by "Yakety Sax" and a slide whistle.
Instead, it was treated as a damning indictment of Suh's character, and the fact that he finished the season with 3.5 sacks in his last five games was overlooked for the easier "dirty player" storyline. Suh was a 2013 Pro Bowler (albeit as a replacement for Super Bowl-bound Justin Smith), but it is barely even talked about.
Brute force and physical talent of this magnitude can never be overlooked, and he has shown his athleticism, if nothing else, even in his training camp conditioning test. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, via Chris McCosky of The Detroit News, said Suh "made a mockery" of the fitness test, and all signs point to him being better than he's been since he was drafted.
It's not a sign of Suh being overrated that his stats declined after opposing teams realized they needed to double-team him on every down. The man is 26 years old, and he's still just trying to figure the game out.
Truly, the mental aspect of the game is the one Suh needs the most help getting down. The man can push just about anyone back, but his aggressiveness gets him into trouble sometimes, like when he was effectively taken out of the game by the San Francisco 49ers with "wham" blocking in both 2011 and 2012 (for more on the "Wham" play, check out this awesome piece at Grantland).
Okay, so the 49ers drew up a blocking method that was really effective against Suh in his sophomore season. Good for them. But there is no excuse for the 49ers to have used the same scheme a year later and have it work. Suh notched only two tackles in both games, while the 49ers rushed for a combined 351 yards, many of them straight through Suh's gap.
Luckily, Suh is already working to adjust to some of the ways defenses play him.
"One of my biggest improvements, and I'm very lucky to have him, is coach (Jim Washburn)," Suh said, per Justin Rogers of MLive.com. He went on to say that Washburn and Kris Kocurek, the Lions' defensive line coaches, "have helped him better understand how opponents are trying to play him and how he can 'cheat' against those matchups."
Now, to be fair, the facts are that Suh hasn't yet replicated his rookie statistics, and he has made some plays he probably wishes he hadn't. But that doesn't change the fact that he's still a player who can do this.
So go ahead, fawn over Fairley, talk about Ziggy Ansah's potential, or forget about the defense and just stare slack-jawed at Calvin Johnson all day. Those will all most likely be bigger storylines as training camp unfolds.
But don't forget that Suh is still being counted on to carry the defensive line, if not the entire defensive unit, and the two-time Pro Bowler has set his limits at infinite, according to Mike O'Hara on the team's official website. If Fairley or Ansah have huge seasons, there's a good chance Suh's play is behind it.
Whether he lives up to that billing remains to be seen, but whatever you do, don't forget he's there trying to make it happen. He has a way of making people pay for forgetting about him.