May 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Ndamukong Suh remains Lions' befuddling behemoth

Lions' Ndamukong Suh: I could've gone elsewhere
Lions' Ndamukong Suh: I could've gone elsewhere: Defensive tackle says he wanted to be in Detroit but could have gone to another team.

Allen Park — Ndamukong Suh says he wants to be here, wants to stay here, wants to win here. He says it earnestly, and maybe even honestly.

The problem is, there’s only one true way to show it, and it’s not with an appearance at a workout. It’s the signature on a long-term contract, which once seemed logical, perhaps even likely, and now looks murky.

No one wants to be duped, and that’s why Suh’s presence and words are an issue. I think fans genuinely want to believe him, and already believe in him as a football player. But negotiations weren’t done in time to help the Lions during free-agency, weren’t done before the draft and might not be done by training camp. And Suh didn’t attend a voluntary camp, although it’s always his routine to conduct offseason workouts at home in Portland, Ore.

He seemed mildly bothered by the skepticism, but he has to understand it. He tried about five different ways to verify his commitment to the Lions after the second day of OTAs on Wednesday, and was engaging without being overly enlightening. Finally, he couldn’t help himself from flashing some power, dropping a revelation he could’ve avoided coming to Detroit altogether.

“Why do I want to be here long term?” Suh said. “I think I’ve said this from the very, very first day I got drafted. I’m here for a reason. I had an opportunity — probably a lot of you guys don’t know — I could’ve gone elsewhere when I was drafted. I had that decision in my hands. I chose not to take it. … I want to be one of the cornerstones, so that’s what I see myself here in Detroit, being one of the cornerstones.”

Suh reiterated it was “in his hands,” then declined to say what, exactly, he was clutching four years ago, when the Lions drafted him No. 2 overall, behind Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. There were no indications at the time Suh could demand a different fate, such as forcing a trade, as Eli Manning once famously did.

Taking the high road

It’s old, vague news anyhow, and in the absence of a new contract, Suh probably was struggling to give proof of his commitment here. At some point, the Lions will have to counter with: Don’t say it, sign it.

Why is this important now, in May? It’s not critically important, but Jim Caldwell is implementing a new system, and it’s always better to have your best defensive player fully engaged.

Caldwell is being smart about it. He dismisses any notion of a distraction, and said he talks with Suh all the time, more than any player on the team.

“He looks great, and we’re glad he’s here,” Caldwell said. “Obviously he does a great job of demonstrating his leadership on the field. Guys have someone they can emulate, because he’s an expert at what he does.”

That’s the leadership angle Caldwell has stressed, and Suh’s on-field tenacity is certainly worth emulating. As I’ve said before, the Lions desperately need him, and have no reason to pressure him yet. Is the issue overblown? A bit, but every time Suh has a chance to deflate it, he doesn’t.

I think he’s right on one matter — he is misunderstood. I also think it’s somewhat by design. If he’s misunderstood, and a bit introverted, that makes it easier not to explain himself. When it was suggested by a reporter he craves the spotlight, he scoffed, even though he’s a national commercial spokesman and a regular at high-profile events.

Suh said he has followed the same offseason regimen since becoming a pro, and it’s kept him healthy. To him, missing a voluntary workout wasn’t petulant but consistent, and had nothing to do with his contract.

“I always go back home, been doing it since I’ve been in the league,” Suh said. “I’m in a great program, dialed in exactly to me and what’s best for my body to have longevity, which has been proven. I haven’t missed many games, if any.”

When asked why the contract wasn’t done, he said he was going to keep that “in house” and not put a timetable on it. But yes, he hears the criticism.

“For sure, I’m aware of it,” he said. “Friends, family, they say people are saying bad things about me, blah blah blah. People are always going to talk bad about you. You’d have to be a deaf mute if you didn’t hear it. I hear it, but it doesn’t necessarily bother me because I’m staying consistent in who I am.”

Playing his own game

Suh, 27, is self-made and self-minded, as tightly tuned as any athlete, and that’s what makes him a great player. It’s also what makes him an issue, some way or another, because football is the least-individualized sport. Suh plays football but doesn’t play the game, at least not the way most play it. On Wednesday, he was back to his manic self on the field, and his enigmatic self off the field.

This was only going to become messy if the absence continued, even though the workouts are voluntary. In some ways, players might not mind the noise because the Summer of Suh takes the focus off them.

“I can just tell you what I see — I see a guy who’s in unreal shape, who’s leading the defensive front,” center Dominic Raiola said. “There are no rifts in the locker room. He’s back, and he’s proving to everybody it really wasn’t an issue with the contract, it was just his way of getting himself ready to play.”

When it’s time to play, Suh will play very well. He appreciates the game, even if he plays it his own way.

Lions Ziggy Ansah and Ndamukong Suh joke around while special teams go through their drills Wednesday at the team's practice facility in Allen Park. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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