Dan Pompei's Read Option: Antics Don't Diminish Ndamukong Suh's Value

Dan PompeiNFL ColumnistMay 22, 2014

Rick Osentoski/AP Images

Much has been made of Ndamukong Suh's whereabouts this spring. The Lions defensive tackle showed up for the first organized team activity Tuesday after missing six weeks of voluntary workouts. 

It has been an issue because Suh is a team captain and could have been present with the large majority of his teammates in the introductory phase of Jim Caldwell's coaching tenure, which included a voluntary minicamp.

Caldwell told Detroit reporters that Suh didn't do anything wrong by not showing up. And he technically is correct. Suh even discussed his offseason plans with Caldwell before workouts started. But Suh neglected an opportunity to do the right thing.

Ultimately, though, this game is about who is showing up in September, not April. And if history is a guide, Suh will be a much bigger problem for the Giants on kickoff weekend than he will be for the Lions.

Understand something about Suh. This is an outstanding football player. Three front-office men were asked to name a better 3-technique in the NFL right now. None could.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

"He's got everything you want at that position," a pro personnel scout said. "He plays hard, he's strong, quick and violent."

An NFC personnel director had this assessment: "Suh is really disruptive, probably more disruptive than productive. He gives up plays by being undisciplined. He's kind of a selfish player. At times he doesn't stay in gaps, and he takes some cheap shots. You have to live with the good and bad with him. He's really good, though. He's hard for offenses to handle. You have to game-plan for him. I'd love to have him."

It's safe to say there is not a team that would not love to have him. At 27, Suh is at the peak of his game. Gunther Cunningham, who was Suh's defensive coordinator for his first four years and now is a senior coaching assistant on the Lions staff, thought 2013 was Suh's finest season, even though he had only 5.5 sacks.

"It really helped when Jim Washburn arrived to work with the defensive line," Cunningham said. "Jim is an excellent coach, and Suh responded well to the way Jim taught him the finer points of the game."

Suh, however, has a way of shifting the focus away from his football ability. He did it again Wednesday when he met with reporters at the Lions' Allen Park facility, surreptitiously claiming he could have been drafted by another team if he didn't want to be a Lion.

The message he was trying to convey may have been that he wants to be in Detroit and always has, but that's not what they are talking about on The Ticket in Detroit afterward.

Suh's offseason has become more controversial in part because his contract is up next March and the Lions have yet to sign him to an extension. Some suspect this is a factor in his behavior.

It should be pointed out that he has acted this offseason much like he has in previous offseasons. Suh typically does not show up until the first OTA practice, and this has not prevented him from getting three Pro Bowl invitations.

From all indications, Suh has not been sitting on a beach and drinking pina coladas for the past four months. He has been working out hard in a personal training program at his home in Oregon. When Suh reported for work this week, his body fat measured 16.0 in the Bod Pod. Most defensive tackles are 23 or higher.

As a rule, Suh does not miss games or in-season practices.

"I've always said you need accountable, reliable and available players, and he passes all three of those with consistency," Cunningham said.

Those are leadership traits, and that's why Suh's teammates and Caldwell consider him a leader. Cunningham said when Suh speaks, his teammates listen, and they respect who he is as a man as well as who he is as a player.

Who Suh is as a player really is all that matters.

NFL Confidential

• The Vikings were very impressed with their first look at Teddy Bridgewater in rookie camp. The quarterback threw with accuracy and zip, and most importantly he played with poise. It was especially evident in the blitz drills, as Bridgewater completed a high percentage of his throws against extra pass-rushers.

Talk about Bridgewater opening the season as the starter may be premature, though. The plan is for Matt Cassel to be the starter, but that could change if Cassel falls on his face or if Bridgewater tears it up. If neither happens, Cassel takes the first snap on Opening Day.

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

• Some scouts were a little concerned about Paul Richardson's ability to stay healthy, but the Seahawks did not hesitate to draft him in Round 2. Richardson weighed only 175 pounds at the combine. At rookie camp, he checked in at 182, but he sat out the last two days after an unspecified injury.

One of the reasons the Seahawks remain unconcerned is they studied the longevity and durability of receivers who weighed 180 pounds or less in previous drafts. And the conclusion was that being slight by NFL standards does not necessarily equate with being injury-prone.

Among the receivers who weighed 180 pounds or less and caught at least 300 career passes were Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce, Keenan McCardell, Donald Driver, Terance Mathis, Wayne Chrebet, Tony Martin, Andre Reed, Troy Brown, Shawn Jefferson, Darnay Scott, Peerless Price, Henry Ellard, DeSean Jackson, Webster Slaughter, Ernest Givins, Rocket Ismail and Nate Washington.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

It also gave the Seahawks comfort to see Richardson showing explosion and agility in rookie camp, in addition to straight-line speed.

• One of the reasons the Bears signed Brandon Marshall to a three-year, $30 million contract extension is the wide receiver makes plays. Another reason is he helps others make plays. It has been well-documented how Marshall helped Alshon Jeffery get stronger, leaner and better prepared for his breakout season last year.

What is less known is Marshall has been a positive influence on others, including tight end Martellus Bennett. Last season when Bennett wasn't seeing a lot of passes thrown his way, it was Marshall who got in his ear and helped him deal with his frustration and stay focused.

Marshall also arranged a group workout in South Florida this offseason that was attended by many teammates, including Jeffery, Bennett, Matt Forte, Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Kyle Long and Jermon Bushrod. Marshall set up the workout facilities and field, and he even provided meals and had some teammates stay at his home.

ST. LOUIS, MO - NOVEMBER 24: Brandon Marshall #15 of the Chicago Bears scores a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on November 24, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

• The Bengals are emphasizing cutting down on Andy Dalton's interceptions this season, and one way they may do that is throw less to A.J. Green. The Pro Bowler was targeted 180 times last year, 100 more than the next-closest wide receiver on the team. At times, Dalton tried to force the ball to Green when he had other options.

Green caught 55.1 percent of the passes thrown to him. According to Stats Inc., 163 players who had at least 30 balls thrown to them caught a higher percentage of their passes. Bengals coaches have discussed spreading the ball around more so others can help break down defenses. The thinking is this could eventually lead to more big plays for Green.

Scout Talk

EARTH CITY, MO - MAY 13: (L to R) St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fischer, draft pick Michael Sam and general manager Les Snead address the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Get
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Michael Sam may be the most-watched player in the NFL in August. But whether he is watched by anybody in September will be determined by whether he makes the Rams' 53-man roster. Surviving the cut is far from a given, based on the opinions of four NFL front-office men.

Sam should have an opportunity, though. Last year, the Rams kept five defensive ends. One of them no longer is with the team, so if the roster makeup stays the same, the team will have an opening at Sam's position.

He will have a difficult time beating out veteran backups William Hayes and Eugene Sims, in the estimation of two personnel men. Both of those players also provide interior rush on third downs.

So his competition could be Sammy Brown and undrafted free agent Ethan Westbrooks. Brown has been with the team on and off since 2012, so the Rams see something in him. Westbrooks, meanwhile, was a priority free agent for the Rams who received a $20,000 signing bonus and $30,000 base salary guarantee.

The Rams clearly think Westbrooks has a chance, and so does he, as he passed up other opportunities to go to St. Louis.

What's interesting is Sam, Westbrooks and Brown have different playing styles.

"Sam is more of a traditional right end, edge-rusher, speed-rusher," one front-office man said. "Westbrooks a more traditional left defensive end like Hayes and Sims and can maybe rush inside as he develops. Brown is a hybrid rusher/linebacker."

EARTH CITY, MO - MAY 16: Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams participates in a rookie minicamp at Rams Park on May 16, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The player whose spot they may be vying for, Gerald Rivers, is a combination of Sam and Westbrooks. He also signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent, but when they tried to move him to their practice squad last December, the Jaguars claimed him on waivers.

Ultimately, Sam's chances will hinge on how he performs and how he fits the Rams' scheme. Not everyone is convinced he is a scheme fit. One evaluator who studied Sam said his only chance is as a designated pass-rusher.

"I don't think he can play regular downs," he said. "We didn't see him as draftable based strictly on tape. He is an effort-rusher, not a dynamic rusher. He's not good in space, not good off the ball. You worry about his lack of size on the ball."

A personnel director for a team with a similar defensive scheme said he thought Sam would not fit his front. "He doesn't have first-step suddenness," he said. "He's tight when he changes direction. He can't adjust his rush, and he gets locked up by long tackles."

All of which explains why Sam was taken in the seventh round. A pro personnel director pointed out that only five players who were seventh-round picks last year played in all 16 games, and 13 were not active for a single game.

"It's an uphill battle for every seventh-rounder," he said.

Hot Reads

• The only people in the world who would rather be in Minneapolis than New Orleans in February 2018 stand to make money off the deal. And even they secretly would rather be in New Orleans.

• Judging by LeSean McCoy's comments, they must not televise many Vikings games in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 04:  LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after scoring a 1 yard touchdown in the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 4, 20
Al Bello/Getty Images

• NFL owners have put off playoff expansion until the 2015 season, at the earliest. This way, they have more time to create room in their pockets for all the extra cash.

• A Buffalo Bills fan has tattooed an image of the late Ralph Wilson Jr. on his arm. Hopefully he has room on the other arm for Jon Bon Jovi.

• Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is now starring in a biographical movie. If he follows the same protocol he did when dealing with the media during Super Bowl week, Lynch, who allegedly is shy, only will appear in front of a camera or microphone if he is threatened with a fine. And then he will wear sunglasses and/or headphones and mumble his lines.

• Move over Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Jay Glazer. Turns out Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy can break NFL news too.

Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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