Maybe Gunther Cunningham isn't the most objective source when it comes to his players. But when the subject turns to Ndamukong Suh, the franchise's MARVEL Comic superhero-turned-defensive tackle, impartiality can take a vacation.
Detroit's defensive coordinator, Cunningham is a notorious walking soundbyte to any journalist within earshot. Over 40 years of coaching football is evident in Cunningham's demeanor and fortified expressions, but Suh has seemingly added a few years. Traditionally, rookies do the opposite.
He is Cunninghan's Fountain of Youth.
"Rookie wall?" responded Cunningham during Thursday's media briefing. The question surfaced over Suh's sackless outings the past two weeks. Even with the goose-eggs, he still leads all NFL defensive tackles with 6.5 sacks. He also holds the league's very unofficial, honorary Happy Gilmore "I was the only guy to ever take off his skate and try to stab somebody" award after his thinly veiled attempt to decapitate Cleveland's Jake Delhomme in the exhibition season.
It might be the only time an online video of a physical assault went viral and didn't lead to an arrest. Or worse, Nancy Grace.
"Him? No. No. No. He’s obsessed with being a fine player," continued Cunningham. "He’s freaky.
"I’ve never met one like this."
And not only because Detroit has already saddled the 6-foot-4, 307-pound self-acclaimed "quarterback hunter" with a kicking cameo.
From Cunningham, this all may or may not mean something. Truth is, Suh's impact in Detroit transcends even the most glowing praise, because he has already accumulated the statistical evidence to back it up. And because, from pee-wee football to last weekend's tilt at Buffalo, opponents hunker down to a Fail Safe-like defense to ensure their quarterback maintains a pulse.
"He’s played consistently the whole time," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Each week he learns a little different thing and gets a little different experience of the way a game’s going and the way an offense is trying to attack him."
Truly, if Suh is larger than life, it's because he rips it from anything in front of him.
It might be difficult to exaggerate the 23-year old's exploits because he's an exaggeration of life himself; a transgression against inertia, the last time something that large moved so diligently it formed the Great Lakes.
Because of the learning curve, and a size trend that balances once they reach the professional level, rookie defensive tackles that enter the league don't often have an immediate impact. When Detroit selected Suh No. 2 overall in April, the Nebraska product was joining a defense that served as a offensive production turnstyle for opponents. Detroit was last in virtually every category, hence the need for Suh. But it also numbed the excitement behind his potential.
Would he go the way of Luther Elliss, Shaun Cody, Ernie Sims, Ikaika Alama Francis, and other big potential defenders that faded into honolulu blue obscurity?
To grease the skids, Detroit had already beefed up the defensive line via free-agency and trade acquisitions. Still, proof is in the pudding.
So far, so good. The Lions are holding opponents to 222 passing yards per contest (17th), and with seven games to play they remain just one sack shy of last year's total of 26.
Suh has had help.
"He came into a great, great situation with (Kyle) Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams and the amazing thing is that somebody asked me about (defensive end) Cliff Avril," Cunningham said. "I had a long talk with (Cliff) today. Those kids in that position, they’re as smart of a group as I’ve ever been around. That really helps a guy like Suh because he doesn’t want to be treated like rookie. He wants to be treated like a man. He acts like one so he expects that. I think therefore he’s well on his way to doing the things that he wants to do personally and it will helps the Lions a long way."
Among those things is a personal goal for Suh; a discussion held between Cunningham and the rookie before the season that resulted in a destination, statistical or otherwise, no one really knows except the two. True to his form, to his era, Cunningham refused to divulge any secrets. The goal will remain between Suh and his coach, likely only palpable within the quarterbacks he feasts upon, numbers he tallies and the celebrations he helps plot.
Is it attainable?
"He’ll attain what he wants to and I know that he’s good enough to do that," Cunningham said. "That would be really something special for him to get to that point in the goal that he has because I’ve been around a long time and what he wants to do is really hard. He works at it every day."
If the first nine games of his career are any indication, regardless of how elusive, lofty or embelished, Ndamukong Suh appears well on his way.