Even though Ndamukong Suh was voted a team captain prior to the 2013 year and minded his manners on the field for the most part, that hasn't stopped rumors about Suh's locker room demeanor much of last season from spreading.
Appearing in an interview with Matt Dery of Detroit Sports 105.1 Friday on radio row, former NFL fullback Heath Evans, now an analyst for the NFL Network and color broadcaster for the NFL on Fox, said several Detroit players told him that Suh was out of control in the locker room, often trying to wield his power over former Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz in subtle ways.
"From my understanding about guys that I respect inside that locker room, you can't have these, I guess, power struggles." Evans said. "The consistent message that came out was, Suh was uncontrollable and that he would constantly do things to show his power over Jim Schwartz."
Evans followed up on the specifics of the reports he got, which he said came unsolicited from several players he respected within the Lions' organization.
"3 different people, all the same story about antics Suh would pull, basically to show his dominance over a head coach…The bottom line is, the stories were multiple and different in a sense of how it was done. As, he would just do things, whether it was showing up for a meeting late, or little different antics and the team would just sit back. More or less, with the players I talked to, basically it was Suh trying to show he was uncontrollable or untouchable."
Prior to that, Evans shared his thoughts on the new Lions' head coach Jim Caldwell, who he agreed was a bright football mind that would have all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams in line in Detroit. Evans said Caldwell's biggest test with the Lions will be his ability to command the locker room and stand up to Suh and others so that everyone's on the same page and nobody is above the law.
"I hope he has the demeanor and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Suh and some of the other antics that shot Jim Schwartz in the foot. (As a head coach) you have to have 53 guys in line that are under you and know your word goes."
As for Detroit's potential needs in the upcoming draft, Evans admitted he didn't know the specifics of all the players start to finish in this particular class just yet, but did share the type of player he believed the Lions should be targeting.
"You need disciplined guys. I'm going to go after the most physically tough, mentally tough guy. What's lacking in Detroit is not physical toughness but mental toughness, which doesn't let you down when push comes to shove. That's what's lacking in Detroit."
Certainly, the most explosive bit to come out of the interview relates to Suh. The claims are interesting, given Suh was on good behavior after making the news early in the season after low block on John Sullivan of the Minnesota Vikings. Little was said about team culture from Schwartz, but the prevailing thought has been that he lost control of the locker room, which led to things routinely spiraling out of control on the field.
Many have also suggested that Suh wasn't disciplined off the field, meaning it was nearly impossible for Schwartz to reign him in on the field as it related to penalties and the rogue side of his football personality. Still, this isn't the first such instance of someone accusing Suh of uncontrollable behavior. Earlier during the season, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported Suh was excessively physical in practice, and the team didn't know how to reign him in. Schwartz shot down those rumors in September, and since then, all has been quiet.
What is truthful and fictional from each of these reports? Few will know the real story without being behind closed doors with the Lions 24-7, but it's safe to say that Evans is right regarding the need for stronger leadership. Whether Suh is as out of control as Evans and Glazer have suggested, it will still be up to Caldwell to change the culture of the locker room dramatically with a strong will.
Considering this latest rumor, it's safe to say that could be Caldwell's most important job this coming season in Detroit.
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