LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Ndamukong Suh went to the front of the line to lead the way.
And when it wasn’t Suh’s turn, he had words of encouragement — which included a playful jab — for his fellow defensive linemen.
“OK, fat boy!” Suh screamed at Nick Fairley as the beefy tackle picked up and put down tennis balls as he sprinted around the path of a figure eight.
“I see you, Zig!” Suh later shouted at rookie Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
In Suh’s first three seasons, the defensive tackle deferred leadership responsibilities to Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril. Those three veterans are gone, leaving Suh with a chance to lead, even if it’s just his group for now.
Defensive end Willie Young has seen Suh take advantage of the opportunity during this week’s minicamp.
“He’s definitely stepped it up,” Young said Wednesday. “His actions say a lot.”
Suh shrugged off the changes others are seeing from him this week.
“I’m just being me,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We had senior leadership with guys who earned their place in the league and I only spoke up when I felt like I needed to. The same thing happened at Nebraska, where it wasn’t until my junior or senior years that I got more vocal.”
Unlike Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini, who encouraged Suh to be a leader of the team and face of the program, Lions coach Jim Schwartz isn’t pushing for Suh to do more than make plays to help Detroit win.
Suh’s statistics have slipped since his rookie year in 2010, when the No. 2 overall pick had 49 solo tackles, including 10 sacks. He made fewer tackles in each of the next two years with four- and eight-sack seasons.
“As a defensive tackle, sometimes you have to create plays for others that don’t result in a statistic,” Suh said. “I’m fine with that as long as the job gets done and we win.”
In the meantime, Suh has developed a reputation as a dirty player.
He was fined $30,000 last season for unnecessary roughness when his cleat collided with Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin area. The league suspended Suh for two games in 2010 for stomping on Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith. That Thanksgiving game came during a season in which he roughed up QBs in questionable ways.
He’s hoping for a drama-free, successful 2013.
“You always want to be recognized for what you do on the field to help your team win,” Suh told The AP. “All the other nonsense and noise, to me, it’s over.”
Suh doesn’t think he should be labeled a dirty player.
“Look at my track record,” he said. “Habits are things you continuously do.”
Suh has regularly done unique activities with his free time during offseasons. He appeared on the ABC reality show “Splash” earlier this year and was previously on a reality dating show and in a car race.
“I had a great experience and got some friendships out of ‘Splash,’ and from an athletic standpoint, it was a chance to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone,” Suh said. “Being able to adapt to different elements is something I pride myself on.”
Detroit’s leadership structure on defense was altered as soon as Vanden Bosch was released in February and when the team didn’t re-sign Avril and Williams as free agents.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham recalled being told by one of the team’s strength coaches that Suh was doing a good job of leading his group.
“He’s being a real team guy and hasn’t lost his ability,” Cunningham said. “So, that’s a good thing.”
Suh said it would be great if his extra efforts lead to him becoming a team captain.
“It would be a tremendous honor for my peers to vote for me to lead them,” he said.
NOTES: RB Reggie Bush said he wasn’t concerned about “tweaking” an ankle after catching a short pass and falling during a drill Wednesday. … The Lions will have a minicamp practice Thursday, then players will have a break before training camp next month.
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