The suspension of Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has dominated headlines and highlights over the last week.
Suh was issued a two-game suspension, which could be reduced depending on the results of an appeal hearing. It is unlikely Suh will be available for the team's Sunday night contest with the New Orleans Saints.
With Suh out, the attention should turn to those who will be on the field rather than what is occurring off of it.
With tremendous depth on the defensive line, the Lions will still field a formidable unit against the Saints -- but who will replace Suh?
The answer is a combination of Nick Fairley, Sammie Lee Hill and Andre Fluellen.
Most believe that Fairley, the Lions first round pick in this year’s draft, will play the most significant role in supplementing Detroit’s most notorious lineman. The truth is, if you want to single out an individual that may be most valuable in Suh’s absent, you need to look no further than Hill.
Playing in his third season, Hill’s contributions aren’t always visible on the stat sheet but he is a valuable player in the defensive line rotation.
“Sammie’s played very good, consistent football this year,” said head coach Jim Schwartz on Wednesday. “I think that it’s reflective of our defensive line. When we played New Orleans in the (season) opener two years ago, Sammie was a starter and Sammie is a much, much improved player since then. Just in every aspect—conditioning, strength, knowledge, technique—everything is much, much improved. But he went from being a starter to being a rotational defensive tackle. He’s given us very productive snaps when he’s been in the game. He has very, very good size, but he’s also a good athlete for that kind of size and you know, again, like Fairley, we need Sammie to continue to play the way he did, but maybe play some more snaps that way.”
Hill is a product of Stillman College, a division II school with a relatively small football program. Entering the professional ranks, Hill captured the eye of scouts due to his physical tools but an unrefined technique, allowing the Lions to select him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
As a member of the first draft class of the Schwartz regime, Hill quickly earned a starting role on a talent-deficient defensive unit.
Hill started his first game, opening weekend of 2009, in New Orleans. His introduction to the NFL was an awakening as the defensive tackle had to adjust to the speed and skill level of the NFL. The Lions fell, 45-27
Through hard work and the support of his teammates –- namely Corey Williams –- the 6-foot-4, 329 pounder has came a long way.
“Everything that I needed to work on, I have,” said Hill. “Just my technique period, not knowing a lot and coming in real raw, there’s stuff I used to do (that I don’t). Just get better and learn as I go. With Corey, the stuff he taught me, I just try to take heed to that and get better every day.”
Hill’s first opportunity came in New Orleans, and now, as he takes a larger role on the defense in Suh’s absence, so will his next.
“I can’t lie and say it wasn’t rough, my first time being in that fire and the New Orleans Saints being the Super Bowl Champs that year,” said Hill of his first NFL game. “It taught me a lot and now that I know a little bit more I can go in the game with a little bit more technique. I have stuff in my mind that I know I can do now.”
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