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, theres only one true way to show it, and its not with an appearance at a workout. Its 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 thats why Suhs 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 werent done in time to help the Lions during free-agency, werent done before the draft and might not be done by training camp. And Suh didnt attend a voluntary camp, although its 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 couldnt help himself from flashing some power, dropping a revelation he couldve avoided coming to Detroit altogether.

Why do I want to be here long term? Suh said. I think Ive said this from the very, very first day I got drafted. Im here for a reason. I had an opportunity probably a lot of you guys dont know I couldve 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 thats 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

Its 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: Dont say it, sign it.

Why is this important now, in May? Its not critically important, but Jim Caldwell is implementing a new system, and its 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 were glad hes here, Caldwell said. Obviously he does a great job of demonstrating his leadership on the field. Guys have someone they can emulate, because hes an expert at what he does.

Thats the leadership angle Caldwell has stressed, and Suhs on-field tenacity is certainly worth emulating. As Ive 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 doesnt.

I think hes right on one matter he is misunderstood. I also think its somewhat by design. If hes 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 hes 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 its kept him healthy. To him, missing a voluntary workout wasnt petulant but consistent, and had nothing to do with his contract.

I always go back home, been doing it since Ive been in the league, Suh said. Im in a great program, dialed in exactly to me and whats best for my body to have longevity, which has been proven. I havent missed many games, if any.

When asked why the contract wasnt 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, Im 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. Youd have to be a deaf mute if you didnt hear it. I hear it, but it doesnt necessarily bother me because Im 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 thats what makes him a great player. Its also what makes him an issue, some way or another, because football is the least-individualized sport. Suh plays football but doesnt 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 whos in unreal shape, whos leading the defensive front, center Dominic Raiola said. There are no rifts in the locker room. Hes back, and hes proving to everybody it really wasnt an issue with the contract, it was just his way of getting himself ready to play.

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

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/bobwojnowski

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