Shawn Windsor: Ndamukong Suh may not be leader, but could help Detroit Lions win

Detroit Free PressJuly 13, 2014 

Ndamukong Suh believes the Detroit Lions have championship DNA. He told the NFL Network recently that the team possesses a core entering its prime.

If Suh believes both of these things, why hasn't he inked a deal to stay in Detroit? Sure, it's possible Suh will re-sign before training camp starts in a couple of weeks. It just isn't likely.

All of this is fine, of course. Suh will be a free agent. He's one of the most gifted players in the league. Here's guessing he'd love to shop that gift around for a while, and it's hard to blame him.

But if he truly cares to extend the reach of the "Suh" brand, it's hard to imagine a better place than Detroit.

Few stories sell better than redemption. Except for stories about uplifting a downtrodden franchise.

Remember Drew Brees and New Orleans?

Yes, Suh isn't a quarterback and isn't likely to achieve that sort of sunny Q rating. But menace - at least in football - has its own appeal. Power certainly does, too.

Suh offers both.

They are just overlooked because of his persona, his relationship to his teammates, his insistence on going his own way. It's easy to forget that Suh often played astonishing football last season. He brings a level of force to a spot on the field that is hard for most players to maintain.

If he'd give up the hollow talk of captaincy and leadership and simply rely on his talent and sincere gestures - showing up at teammates' camps, for example - he could more easily change the narrative.

One that has dogged him this offseason, mostly because of missing voluntary workouts and the sense that he wants more money than he's worth.

The problem is he hasn't built enough relationships to fully stop the narrative despite his stellar play. Suh recently told his hometown newspaper, the Oregonian, that he thought of himself as an introvert.

The implication was that the personality trait opened the door for others to write his story. Here's how he described it in the same article:

"People who met me on the street would look at me. They were a little apprehensive," Suh told the paper. "They'd sort of keep their distance, then if we had a conversation or an exchange, they'd suddenly realize that I wasn't some kind of maniac. It was like they were surprised."

I'm not sure anyone in the Detroit area thinks of Suh as a maniac. Haughty? Absolutely. Difficult? You bet. Frustrated? Of course.

Clearly, he hates losing - few athletes who play as hard and as relentless as he does handle losing well. That is normally a characteristic that endears a professional player to his fans.

But even that hasn't unfolded as Suh might like. Last season, he - and the Jim Schwartz regime - pushed the idea that Suh was a leader. That sales pitch hurt him this spring when he skipped workouts.

Suh is not a leader, at least not in the vocal sense. This doesn't mean he can't learn how to channel more of that immense talent and on-field energy to his teammates in a productive way.

Perhaps his new coach will help. Suh seems to think so. In an interview with Pro Football Talk, he said last year's team didn't pay enough attention to detail.

"It comes down to being perfectionists and being very conscious of what we need to complete, and really just paying attention to detail. That's something that we didn't have last year. That's why we let the league, and our division, slip out of our hands," Suh said.

Suh might be a great player, but he is still learning how to be a great teammate.

Jim Caldwell's player-friendly approach surely will be welcomed in the locker room after Schwartz's often unpredictable intensity.

Yet insistence on perfection and attention to detail can't just come from coaches. It has to come from players, too, especially from the most gifted among them.

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