Allen Park -- It was a simple show of hands, but for the Lions, a couple days into their first real offseason work as a team, maybe it's an encouraging sign.
Assistant Jim Washburn was having a little bit of fun during a defensive-line drill Wednesday morning, and so were his guys, testing their quickness and explosion off the ball in what amounted to a two-man game of tag.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were the first to line up — Fairley won, barely — but Washburn immediately called for a rematch, asking the rest of the group how many were picking Fairley to repeat. A few hands went up, and everyone hooted and hollered, Suh and Fairley included. After Fairley won again, the racket grew louder still.
Honestly, I think that's good noise, er, news, as the Lions try to put last season's 4-12 finish behind them and attempt to have a little more fun at someone else's expense this year.
To do it, they're going to need that tag-team partnership on the defensive line to be what Fairley already claims they are: the best tackle tandem in the league. And they're going to need them both to be leaders — in actions and words — fronting one of the league's younger defenses, with no projected starters over the age of 28. (And when was the last time you could say that about the Lions?)
"Particularly a guy like Ndamukong Suh," Lions coach Jim Schwartz agreed Wednesday after practice. "That's something he's embraced."
A young veteran
How? Schwartz didn't offer any anecdotal evidence, nor did he flinch when the follow-up question focused on the fact Suh had only arrived Monday, a month after many of his teammates showed up for the start of the Lions voluntary offseason conditioning program.
Suh, entering his fourth NFL season, certainly isn't the only player who opted to train elsewhere. And it's clear Suh, coming off his second Pro Bowl season, showed up "in great shape," as Schwartz put it, the way he always does.
"The important thing," Schwartz added, "is he's here now."
But it's even more important, if not imperative, Suh be more than just present, and accountable, particularly after the offseason departures of veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams along that line.
"He's been working very hard," Schwartz said. "And he's sort of been — I won't say waiting for that opportunity — but when he came in as a rookie, he had a lot of veteran players that had a lot of experience and he did a good job of learning from those guys. He's a young veteran. It's time for him and a lot of other guys to start showing that leadership."
Showing and telling are two different things. Especially for an introvert like Suh, who is alternately portrayed by the media as miscreant or misunderstood, and sometimes both.
"You know how Suh is," said linebacker Stephen Tulloch, one of last year's defensive captains. "Suh's a quiet guy. But I'll tell you one thing: He's dominant. So I can't be mad at him. …
"He doesn't say much. He's a very business-like person. But as a player, he's definitely well-respected (by the team) and he comes to work here every day in practice."
Tulloch compared Suh to Calvin Johnson in that regard. But even Johnson has come out of his shell the past couple of years, thanks in part to the jovial presence of Nate Burleson, who on Wednesday was busy promising a return to the "foaming-at-the mouth" Lions of 2011 this fall.
And maybe that's the added benefit of a fully engaged Fairley, as well as the arrival of Washburn, who worked with Schwartz — and coached Tulloch — in Tennessee and has a well-documented reputation as one of the NFL's best — and loudest — line coaches. ("We've got Alabama versus Africa," he yelled Wednesday, as Suh and Fairley lined up for their race.)
"Fairley's definitely the vocal part," Tulloch said. "You know how Fairley is. He's wide open. That's his personality. And when he's healthy he plays that way, too. He'll be a big-time leader in that defensive line room, vocally and by his play."
As for Suh, might Washburn — working in stereo along with protégé Kris Kocurek — finally be the coach to get him to project his voice a little more?
"I think so," Tulloch said, laughing. "If anybody can, he probably could."
Judging by the sound of it Wednesday, the auditions already are under way.