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Ndamukong Suh: Man of the World

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Ndamukong Suh's(notes) mind has been on a few different sports lately. This week, he's been up at the Nike Campus in Beaverton, Ore., helping to coach the high school players in Nike's 7ON Tournament. On Thursday, Suh helped out with the "Hyper Fuse" team from Denton, Texas, along with Arizona Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston(notes). That will keep him busy through Friday, and after that, 7-on-7 football gives way to the professional 11-man version as the former Nebraska standout defensive tackle prepares for his first NFL training camp with the Detroit Lions.

With a mother from Jamaica, a father from Cameroon, and a deep soccer background (Suh played often in his youth, and his father played professionally in Germany), the 2010 second-overall pick has focused on the World Cup as much as his busy schedule has allowed. "I've enjoyed the World Cup, though I haven't had to catch too much of it. What I did catch, there were some pretty good games. It was unfortunate about some of the calls. I know that's a big controversy, but I mean, it's human error. People make mistakes, and they have to live with that, and teams have to live with that. That's why it's a game. It's a game of futbol, and you have to really make sure you do everything to score, and leave no doubt that you're the best team. It's unfortunate that some of the calls went badly, but I enjoyed it. It's a great competition. You've got whole countries after their teams, and great rivalries. And it's just exciting to see."

With two "home teams" (Suh's first name means "House of Spears" in the language of his father's Ngema tribe), he found his loyalties somewhat divided. "I was rooting for Cameroon. Obviously, living in the states, I like the U.S. I like Landon Donovan and all those guys that play for the U.S. That's my two-headed sword, neither one of those two teams would probably meet in the championship, but unfortunately, both of them got knocked out. It's still great futbol out there."

Had Suh stuck with futbol instead of football, what kind of player might he have been? "I don't know. I'm sure I would've been fairly good. I know I would've had the luxury of my dad training me. I feel I would've been pretty well off, but I don't know how far I would've gone."

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Fortunately for Nebraska, Suh chose the sport he did, and he was never more dominant in the college game than in the 2010 Big 12 Championship, when he ripped Texas' offensive line to bits and sacked Colt McCoy(notes) 4½ times. It wasn't enough for the Cornhuskers to avoid a last-second 13-12 loss, but that wasn't on Suh's incredible performance — there were times when he would shake off double- and triple-teams as if they were minor annoyances. I asked Suh if there was anything in particular that gave him such a green light to the quarterback — any schematic differences. "Nah, it was simple as just understanding their offense and what they wanted to run. They didn't change anything like a lot of teams did against our defense. They chose to run their offense that they'd shown all season instead of throwing a twist, [or] things we hadn't seen before. Texas chose to run exactly what they did on film, and we chose to eat it up and take advantage of it, knowing exactly what they were going to do since they didn't want to change it up. In the end, they made the play to win the game, and we didn't. We didn't stop it. It's unfortunate that we didn't, but we'll learn from that. Hope those younger guys learned from it, and they'll move forward and make sure it doesn't repeat itself."

In certain games in the middle of the 2009 season, Suh was somewhat flummoxed by wider line splits arrayed against him, especially in the Kansas and Oklahoma games — he did not record a sack in either contest. What was it about those different schemes? "To me, it's really not that big of a deal. It just moves you further away from the quarterback. It puts a little bit more pressure on our DBs to give us a little more time. We went against a team like that in Missouri that likes to have wide splits and have their offensive linemen just take up space. Myself and my comrades got back there, sacked the quarterback, and the game was history. We won the game. So, it affects it, but it just brings a different twist to how you play it."

Moving on to the NFL, Suh has traded in the estimable Bo Pelini for two great minds in head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. While Schwartz provides the cerebral, relatively even-tempered component, Cunningham is one of the game's true characters. "It's been great. I've been really close with coach Cunningham, and it's been a lot of fun to learn from him. He's a great defensive guru, great defensive line coach. And I have another great coach in [defensive line coach Kris] Kocurek, who's young and used to play [seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2001], and is now coming up in the coaching ranks very quickly. He understands what we need to get done, and he helps me out a lot. Just being able to bounce information off of them is tremendous, and I learn from them. Because they obviously know the game, because [otherwise] they wouldn't be coaching."

Suh also benefits from the presence of end Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes), a veteran who learned all about how a line can work in conjunction with a dominant defensive tackle — when Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth(notes) were running end/tackle stunts in Tennessee, few pass rushes were tougher to stop. "I won't get into our tactics and what we're doing, but it's definitely been a pleasure to work with Kyle. Learning from him, and with him being a Nebraska great, and the opportunity to just work out with him in the weight room. His work ethic is immaculate. Being able to learn the ropes with him is a great advantage for me. It's really a blessing. A lot of people don't understand that when you're drafted so high, a lot of the time guys in that position have to come in and have to be ‘The Man'. I don't have to come in and be ‘The Man' on my team, especially on the defensive line. Because I have Kyle, and Corey Williams(notes) from Cleveland, and Jared DeVries(notes) — all veterans that have been in the game for years, and know what's going on. So I just have the luxury to come in and help them out, to help me out. So I'm in a great situation."

I asked Suh about Haynesworth, and the problems inherent in moving a 4-3 tackle to a 3-4 scheme. Haynesworth wants no part of the change with the Redskins because he believes it will negatively affect his stats and it wasn't what he was promised before he signed with the team before the 2009 season. Suh, who has played some 3-4 end in addition to his primary 4-3 sets, understands both sides of the situation. "Like you said, I've had the luxury of being in both systems. And really at the end position, playing the 3-4 end. I understand what Haynesworth's frustration is. I mean, things happen. Things change. You've got to learn to adapt with them. He went there not expecting that, expecting to be in the 4-3, but things happen and now he's in a 3-4 system.

"I think he's a guy who's great enough, with great athleticism, and he's one of those guys that can adapt and make it happen no matter what defense he's in. I'm sure he'd prefer to be in a 4-3, because that's what he's been in and is accustomed to, and where he makes a lot of his plays. And it'll be a little harder for him to make plays in a 3-4, because he's going to see more people [blocking him]. He's not going to have those one-on-ones like he had in a 4-3, so I definitely understand that. For me, I've [been in] both systems, and understand how to play them. So I know how it works, and I understand where I would be able to make plays in a 3-4 and where I'd be able to make plays in a 4-3. I personally prefer a 4-3. It's a lot more fun. You got one-on-ones, and get to destroy players and do things of that sort. So it's a lot of fun. I understand where Haynesworth is with that."

But had a team like the Buffalo Bills, who are looking to make an iffy conversion to the 3-4 without the personnel to do it, drafted him, would Suh have reacted negatively? "If you're a football player, and you understand the game, and you're willing to learn and adjust and adapt, I'm sure you'll be fine."

That's the way Ndamukong Suh seems to see his sporting world — variety is the spice of life, and versatility is the key to happiness.

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