Commentary

Applaud Suh; don't fine him

Passionate play should be as welcome from defenders as it is from quarterbacks

Originally Published: August 23, 2011
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

I love Ndamukong Suh. The pride of the Detroit Lions has quickly made his way onto the list of my five favorite players in the NFL, and at this rate, he seems destined to be No. 1. My affinity for his style of play stems from my long-held beliefs about how the game should be played. So far, Suh appears ready to carry the torch in a vicious game played by violent men.

Football, as Bill Parcells so famously put it, is not for the "well-adjusted," especially at the professional level. It is pretty much the last bastion of testosterone-laden barbarism for participants and spectators. At least for me, that's a big reason it is so great, and it's the aspect of playing that I miss most.

Which brings me back to Suh. He was fined $20,000 last week for a hit on Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. It is his third such fine before his second regular season has even begun. Many pundits and fans believe he is a dirty player who needs to tone down his aggressiveness.

Not I.

In an age in which there are a number of immensely talented NFL players, particularly defensive linemen (see Haynesworth, Albert), who are underachieving and just generally disappointing, Suh is a breath of fresh air. He is the rarest of rare at that demanding position, an extremely gifted prospect who plays the game with no mercy or regard for the safety of himself or anyone else around him.

That, folks, is the stuff Hall of Famers are made of. Barring unforeseen injury, I see no reason that Suh won't someday join the others in Canton, Ohio, who treated the game with respect by playing it the way it was intended to be played. Names like Nitschke, Butkus, Lott and LT come to mind.

Suh wants to be great and has the necessary killer instinct it takes to be great. Isn't that what we should want and frankly expect from athletes, especially the ones who have been blessed with tremendous natural ability?

Take the Dalton hit, for example. Suh was fined presumably because he "slammed" Dalton to the ground. The NFL has an increased emphasis on protecting players -- quarterbacks in particular -- and that's fine. But what do NFL officials -- or you -- want Suh to do in that situation? He got to Dalton, faced him up chest to chest, then forcefully took him down to the ground. Hard. That's football.

Is Suh supposed to lay Dalton gently down to the ground? For all he knew, Dalton still had the ball in his hands and he needed to sack him immediately. And if he isn't allowed to be that forceful, how can he or anyone else ever expect to get a moose like Ben Roethlisberger down?

Suh may incur a few more fines along the way to Canton, but I don't think that makes him a dirty player, and I certainly don't think it will deter him from continuing to play the game at full throttle. What do you think Tom Brady would be like if he played on the defensive line? Or Peyton Manning, for that matter?

Brady is as intense and as passionate as they come, and he takes the game extremely seriously. My guess, having played with him, is that he would be a relentless, no-holds-barred wrecking ball. That's the type of competitor he is. That's the way most of the best players in the NFL are. It's not a secret. In general, the best players are the ones who care the most, and for pass-rushers, that means an absolutely obsessive take-no-prisoners style. Think Deacon Jones, Howie Long and Reggie White. You either have it or you don't.

Suh has it. Instead of criticizing it or trying to rein it in, I say we embrace it and considers ourselves fortunate that the next in a long line of dominators is finally here.

From the inbox

Q. Why are so many people writing off the Redskins so quickly? In my opinion their season is very unpredictable. Their defense looks very good on paper and has the potential to be great. Their offense has had reasonable upgrades at key positions, and they have great depth at tight end. As for the quarterback issue, I don't see a huge issue. Rex Grossman did lead a team to the Super Bowl and John Beck hasn't had a chance to prove anyone wrong or right, so it's wrong to write him off. Do you think that the Redskins have the potential to go .500 or have a wild card spot this year?

Robert from Leesburg, Va.

A. "Potential" is a dirty word in the NFL, and I think most of the doubt relating to the Redskins revolves around their QB situation because their run game has looked stellar thus far in the preseason. No matter who starts for the Skins, he clearly will be the least accomplished passer in a very tough division, and therein lies the problem. Although I think we know what Grossman is as a quarterback, I believe the jury is still out on Beck. I don't know how people can have such definitive opinions after four starts as a rookie for a horrendous Dolphins team. He might be terrible, or he could end up being great or something in between, but how does anyone know at this point? They don't. The Shanahans are staking their reputation on him, which means either way it will be very interesting.

Q. Do you think that tackling is a lost art in the NFL? It seems that so many players go for that "Big Hit" that there are far too many missed tackles. I'm not trying to take anything away from the RBs, WRs etc., breaking tackles, but defenders seem to look for the highlight reel hit or the "Ole!" arm-tackle."Your thoughts?

Pat from Indianapolis

A. I'm not surprised to get this email from Indy, given how poorly the Colts' defense has tackled thus far this preseason. As far as overall tackling, this is something that I hear all the time. Most people just accept it as fact, but I am not convinced. I'd love to see some sort of metrics that support the thesis that tackling is a lot worse now than it used to be. Sometimes I think it is kind of like the "when I was your age, I used to walk five miles to school uphill barefoot in the snow" thought process. There are plenty of players who are very sure tacklers. Maybe those who aren't shouldn't be on the field.

Q. As a Raider fan it is hard to become excited about this upcoming season, so is there anything that the Raider Nation and I should pay attention to in order to stay interested in our team?

Brian from Rubidoux, Calif.

A. I share your concern about the Raiders this year and am very disappointed by their offseason. The Raiders have an awesome fan base, and the league is more interesting when they are good. I fear they are going in the wrong direction this year. They won more than five games for the first time since 2002, going a respectable 8-8 last season, yet they fired their head coach and lost their best offensive player (Zach Miller), defensive player (Nnamdi Asomugha) and offensive lineman (Robert Gallery) in free agency. That's not good. Seems to me that with the exorbitant contracts that they gave to Michael Huff, Kamerion Wimbley and Stanford Routt, the Raiders paid the wrong guys. When you talk with other executives around the league, it always seems as though the Raiders are negotiating with themselves. No other team would have given contracts even close to the amount that the Raiders gave those three good but not elite players.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.