Ndamukong Suh knows what is coming.
Double teams, chop blocks, possibly even triple teams if two aren’t enough. When asked about being ready for the extra attention on Saturday, a small smirk formed on his face before simply stating: “I’m aware.”
The preseason All-American defensive tackle has gotten more publicity than any other defensive tackle in the country. He’s projected as high as the top pick for next year’s NFL Draft. He’s aware of that, too.
He’s a candidate for the 2009 Lombardi Award, Outland Trophy, Nagurski Award and the Lott Trophy, and the guy hasn’t even crouched down for his first snap of the regular season.
His head coach Bo Pelini knows all that “stuff” is out there about his star defensive tackle, but has no concern about it affecting Suh’s play on the field.
“His year is going to be defined by how he plays when the ball is snapped,” Pelini said. “Forget all the other stuff—that means nothing at this point. He’s a marked man, and he needs to get after it and play at a high level.”
Suh will play at a high level, there’s no doubt about that, but it might not be seen statistically under his name. If guys like defensive tackle Jared Crick and defensive ends Pierre Allen and Barry Turner are putting up huge numbers, Suh is possibly taking on the biggest workload.
It’s a new situation for the 6-foot-4, 300 pounder. Last year, he was under the radar and excelled significantly, leading the team in tackles, sacks and the always funny stat—interceptions.
He wasn’t just a defensive threat either. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson liked the kid so much he created a whole other offensive scheme that players called the “Ducky formation,” which was essentially a revamped version of NU’s goal line offense.
Along with his play on defense, Suh tallied 3 touchdowns and 81 total all-purpose yards—beating wide receiver Curenski Gilleylen, graduated tight end Hunter Teafatiller and full back Thomas Lawson last season.
Not bad for a guy who is now a main concern for opposing offenses.
But is the Husker standout ready for the spotlight? Yes, and if he has it his way, he won’t back away from it either.
“It’s a combination of some pressure and not much pressure,” Suh said. “I just want to do the best I can and be a big part of helping this team win.”
As for being considered a top draft pick, he’s not too shy about that either.
“I’ve looked at it, and I’ve had friends text me and call me about it, but it’s all theoretical,” Suh said. “Nothing is set in stone, and I will still need to perform on the field this year.”
Luckily for Suh, NFL scouts don’t look at just statistics when evaluating a player. That’s why they show up to games instead of just reading box scores. Scouts will be able to see Suh open up opportunities for his teammates this season, and he will continue to have top draft pick potential.
The future NFL draft pick isn’t big on being the flashy star on a football team, nor does he like talking about all of his hype—but he’ll never deny his situation, which is an enviable one at that.
Suh gets to start his season Saturday, and he couldn’t be more appreciative of that fact. Florida Atlantic is going to come into Memorial Stadium and pass the ball—that’s a given.
Last season, the Owls took on another Big 12 Conference team in Texas to start the season. They passed the ball 39 times on the day in contrast to just 23 rush attempts. Neither worked out well for FAU, as they fell 52-10 to the Longhorns, and Nebraska can only hope for the same result on Saturday.
With a passing attack looming for the Nebraska defense, Suh might not show up significantly statistically—at least in terms of tackles and for that matter tackles for a loss.
But who knows, maybe he can pace himself to lead the team in interceptions again. It is something he joked he wouldn’t mind one bit as long as it is more than the two he got last year.
The spotlight will not change Suh, and he will tell you that all the way until he’s drafted. Knowing that, expect more of the same from “Ducky” this fall, and that’s a message for both opposing offenses and opposing defenses.