by | Apr 23, 2010 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

What’s not to like?

He’s big. He’s strong. He’s admired by the scouts. He pledged $2.6 million to his alma mater before he even signed a contract, so we know he has incentive to work.

And now he’s a Lion.

In fact, about the only thing difficult about Ndamukong Suh is his first name.

Oh. And he’s pretty smart, too.

“You just graduated with an engineering degree?” I asked Suh this week.

“Yes,” he said. “Construction management engineering.”

“Right. … Huh?”

He laughed. “I’ve been very blessed having two sides to myself, not just football.”

And this may be the thing to like most. Suh, 23, considered by many the finest defensive player in the draft, was raised by a Jamaican mother and a Cameroon father. Both were excellent athletes. More important, both emphasized that nothing is promised in this country. Suh’s father grew up in a poor village, came to this country and started a business, fixing home appliances. His mother moved from the island to the U.S., decided to study nursing and became a teacher.

“They both taught me you have to work for everything here – and never be ungrateful,” Suh said. “If what you want doesn’t happen, keep grinding and work that much harder. But don’t expect anything to be given to you.”

What’s not to like? A much better defensive front

And then there’s the football part. Suh, a 6-foot-4, 307-pound defensive tackle, is considered by many a beast at his position. His soccer training (before he turned to football) helped develop his quick feet. And his brute strength is evident in an endless stream of highlight video from his time at Nebraska, where he was constantly throwing players to the ground, sometimes so hard you heard cymbals crash.

It’s rare a defensive player is the most memorable face of a Big 12 championship game, but Suh pulled that off against Texas, with 10 unassisted tackles, seven tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks. He was so all over the Texas offense, I think at one point the Longhorns offered to let him play running back, since he was on their side of the line anyhow.

Talent is not an issue. Strength is not an issue. So that leaves only the perennial question around here: Did the Lions do the right thing by drafting him versus someone else?

To which I repeat: What’s not to like?

The Lions’ defense was awful last season. Suh should quickly help with defending the run and pass. Paired with a recent acquisition, veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, they could become a formidable wall on one side of the line. Those are two players – one a proven Pro Bowler, the other arguably the best defender in the college game – whom the Lions didn’t have last season.

How can that not be good? A sad history of drafting D-linemen

Yes, it’s true, the Lions lack a great history in choosing defensive players. It’s one of the reasons they have to KEEP choosing defensive players. Their recent history of defensive line picks is nothing to brag about. High second-rounders like Shaun Cody in 2005 (started 11 games in four years here) and Kalimba Edwards in 2002 no longer are with the team. Neither is Shaun Rogers (2001), although he had flashes of greatness.

The highest the Lions have recently gone for a defensive lineman was Luther Ellis in 1995 with the 20th pick. So taking Suh this high is a huge break from tradition.

Then again, isn’t that what the Lions need?

Besides, this kid clearly has character. The $2.6 million pledged to his school is a far cry from the big car and fancy house that usually mark the first purchases for a suddenly rich rookie.

And when I asked him what part of his game he needs to improve, he didn’t flinch.

“I would say one of element is the pass-rush game – just coming in with a dominant move that I can always beat the person with. I’ve focused my game on being so versatile – I’ve lost a dominant move besides the bull rush. You want to come with another move that’s kind of your signature.”

Hey. Getting to the quarterback is signature enough around here.

Did they need help elsewhere? They need help everywhere. But Suh is rare talent, rare character and old enough to be ready for this. Most teams wanted him. The Lions got him.

What’s not to like?

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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