Indianapolis Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said he'd take Ndamukong Suh on his team, faults and all. So would every coach, if they're honest.
Suh is the Detroit Lions' defensive tackle and problem child. He's been out of line on the field and sometimes drives recklessly off it. He's stomped, pushed and kicked when he should have walked away. He's been fined, suspended and labeled the “dirtiest player” in the NFL in a poll of his peers.
Is he more trouble than he's worth? Or is he just the right amount of trouble?
The Colts are about to find out when they play the Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.
“I don't think he's a dirty player,” Arians said. “I'd love to have him on my team. I like the way he plays. He plays aggressive, hard and fast and physical and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that's why they call it football.”
Some of the things Suh has done are infamous, including when he pushed Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground and stomped on his arm. Suh has treated Bears quarterback Jay Cutler with extra physicality, bordering on excessive. Suh somehow swung his leg around and kicked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the crotch last week, quite athletic for a 307-pound guy.
The NFL didn't determine the kick was intentional, but fined Suh $30,000 anyway. That's what he gets for his reputation.
So would you take him on your team? Arians would. While the Colts have some physical defensive players up front in Robert Mathis, Cory Redding, Dwight Freeney and others, none has crossed the line to dirty or perceived dirty play.
The reason Arians would take Suh, and every coach who is honest would take him, is the way Suh throws offenses off balance. It's not necessarily a matter of whether Suh gets the sack or the tackle. Teams must be aware of him, and that awareness and concentration on slowing him opens things up for his teammates.
Suh's presence is similar to that of Freeney, who doesn't have huge numbers but draws offensive attention and changes opponents' game plans.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz insists that Suh is evolving as a player and avoiding the perceived dirty play, but that the occasional incidents are magnified by the media.
“Ndamukong is every year decreasing the number of penalties he's gotten and I thought this year he'd done an excellent job of staying away from plays like that,” Schwartz said in reference to a rough tackle of Cutler.
Schwartz pointed out that sometimes a quarterback moves slightly at the last second, leading to an awkward hit by a defensive linemen who can't alter his path.
“If you're half a second late on a sack, the penalty's on you,” Schwartz said. “It's a tough position for any defensive lineman, but I think he's done a very good job of avoiding those situations.”
Reaction of Suh's kick to Schaub has ranged from outrage to incredulity. The latter reaction came from Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who told the Detroit News the incident was overblown.
"I agree with what somebody on the television said — he has to have eyes in the back of his head to do that," Cunningham said. "It's just ridiculous. I get tired of having to say things like that. …He was trying to make a play. Nobody talks about the guard tackling him on his way to the quarterback."
Suh doesn't get the benefit of the doubt anymore, of course. Nor should he. He has had too many incidents to ignore “inadvertent” kicks and stomps. But there is something to Arians' off-the-cuff reply about Suh's aggressiveness being part of football.
Something tells me Dick Butkus and members of the Fearsome Foursome might have stomped or kicked a time or two. They just had the foresight to do so before 24-7 sports television coverage.
Suh has one thing in common with the “dirty” players of old: Coaches and fans like them a lot more when they're on their team.