When the NFL stocks its shelves with young talent during the annual draft with college football's top players, there are few positions more filled with risk-reward than defensive linemen. College football's most dominant D-linemen are just as likely to be busts at the NFL level and, of those who do succeed, it is often a multi-year process.
When the Detroit Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh last year, almost every draft expert agreed that Suh was a "can't-miss" prospect. In his rookie season, he not only became an immediate starter for the Lions, but was named a starter for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. He had 66 tackles, a whopping 10 sacks (a huge number for a defensive tackle), one interception and a forced fumble.
He has become a force inside and the foundation of a young, improving Lions defense. As he comes to the Mall of America Field Sunday, it will be the job of center John Sullivan and guard Anthony Herrera to try to neutralize one of the most dominating defensive linemen in the league.
While Suh's meteoric rise to the top of the defensive tackle class in the NFL was quicker than many anticipated, his success hasn't surprised Herrera, who saw the dominating traits in Suh while he was still at Nebraska.
"His success hasn't surprised me at all," Herrera said. "That type of player only comes around once every 10 years. You could see when he was in college that he was going to be something special. He dominated those guys. The Lions weren't a great team, but he immediately made their defense a lot better. If there was a surprise at all, it was how quickly he was recognized by the NFL players as being one of the best defensive tackles in the league."
What makes Suh so impressive is that he is a three-down tackle. He can be an effective run-stuffer on first and second downs and, when an opponent is in passing situations, he has the strength and speed to collapse the pocket from the middle. But, what makes him even more dangerous is that he is a student of the game and is constantly refining his game to prevent teams from neutralizing him.
"He has the total package," Herrera said. "He thinks about the game, he doesn't just play it. He is always thinking and diagnosing. He plays the game within the game and doesn't miss much that happens on the field."
His calling card is his bulk strength, which Sullivan said is the key to understanding his game. He almost requires double-teams because of his explosiveness.
"He comes off the snap very quickly and you have to get into his body immediately," Sullivan said. "If you don't, he has the strength and quickness to get through you and into the backfield. He's a handful."
The Vikings aren't going to change up how they approach their blocking schemes against Suh. Herrera said that fundamentals are what will be needed to stop Suh and prevent him from making the kind of impact he has had in so many games early in his career.
"It's going to take technique to keep him from doing what he wants to accomplish," Herrera said. "You have to go after him. We have to make him adjust to what we do. We don't change to what other teams do. We make them adjust to our offense. That's how we look at it."
Sullivan agreed, saying that Suh demands respect and attention and that both he and Herrera will be battle together on Sunday and Suh will be a formidable opponent that won't relent or retreat.
"He never stops working," Sullivan said. "You have to stay on him until the whistle on every play because he never lets up or takes a play off. He's coming 100 percent on every play and, even if you do you job well, he's going to take advantage of any mistakes you make."
For a young player, Suh plays like a seasoned veteran. Herrera believes the Vikings can do the job to keep Suh off of both Donovan McNabb and Adrian Peterson, who admitted that Suh has to be accounted for on every snap. He will pose the biggest challenge the Vikings interior O-line may face all season and Herrera believes the Vikings will be up to this monumental test.
"Every week is a challenge," Herrera said. "I'm the right guard and we're a right-handed team. That usually means that I've got the best D-tackle on me. I'm ready for the challenge."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Herrera, Sullivan draw tough task of Suh
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