Avocadoes are a deliciously difficult food. No matter how carefully I try to peel and slice or dice them, I screw up. I resign myself to mashing them into paste, or spreading them on something. Fortunately, they’re quite tasty like that—and thanks to Ndamukong Suh, I can get an avocado fix at Subway without any prep work, failure, or associated shame.
Yesterday, Suh showed up at a Detroit Subway with a basket full of 130-some avocadoes and an appetite. Some media types were on hand; I was lucky enough to be one of them. We got to see Suh make some sandwiches, including a turkey-and-avocado footlong for himself:
According to Wikipedia, the word “avocado” has an interesting etymology:
The word 'avocado' comes from the Mexican Spanish aguacate which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word ahuácatl (ballsack, a reference to the shape of the fruit).
Fittingly, Ndamukong answered our questions with preternatural confidence. Last time I spoke with Suh at a Subway event, his approach was humble, and his words were, too. This time, his demeanor hadn’t changed—he was quiet, respectful, and selfless with his time. But his words were bold, and lent credibility by his performance on the field. He wasn’t a college kid trying to make an impression, but a top-flight pro.
He was asked how the Lions would change their approach this season, to handle the pressure of increased expectations and excitement from fans and media. "In my opinion we want to approach it the same exact way as we did the year before,” he said. “We could easily have won a lot of the games we were in, it’s just a matter of learning how to finish. I think those last four games kind of showed that turn, where we were learning how to finish games."
In his rookie year, he achieved everything a rookie DT could possibly achieve, so I asked him how he could build on it—and what his individual goals are. "I'm no longer a rookie, I'm a sophomore now,” he said. “As a rookie, you want to win Rookie of the Year, be that All-Rookie. Now it's time to be that All-Sophomore.” He wouldn’t identify any individual awards or numbers, though. “Whatever my team does, if my team does as we want to, I’ll achieve my individual goals. I don’t have separate goals that are just for me, they’re always intertwined with team goals. That’s selfish, for a player to have individual goals like that."
Someone asked him to put a number to it—how many wins the Lions are looking for in the 2011 season. Suh didn’t hesitate: “16-0,” he said. There was a pause, and an awkward laugh. The questioner asked, “No, but seriously—” and Suh cut him off. “Why can’t I be serious about that? It’s a simple fact that I’m going to go into every single game intending to win.” He talked about the number of close calls the Lions had in 2010, and highlighted the Chicago Robbery: “It doesn’t always go your way; things aren’t always in your hands. But you control what you control, and have the mindset that you’re going to win, though sometimes it’s not going to work out that way. The Patriots, when they went 16-0, I’m sure they had the mindset of winning that first game, taking it game by game, and then they ended up 16-0.”
Though he said he’d spent most of the year to this point completing his rehab and getting his body prepared for camp, I asked him if there was a specific aspect of his game he was focused on improving this offseason. “Every year is an opportunity to get better, to learn new techniques, and allow yourself to continually be able to beat offensive linemen. They change the way they play, we change the way we play to adapt and adjust and make it more difficult for them to block us.” Suh described the battle between offensive and defensive linemen as a constant cycle of adaptation, and evolution. “For me primarily, I'm going to work on my feet and my hands. Those are the two biggest things I beat people with. As long as I’m sharp with those, the schematics will help you beat [offensive linemen].”
I asked him if he was excited to see what Gunther had been drawing up during the offseason, what different ways he’d be deployed, and he said “Oh yeah.” His eyes lit up as he started talking about collaborating with Gun on how to maximize his tools. “The great thing about him, everyone may see him as someone where it’s only his way or the highway. But if you really get to know him, he lets you run with your imagination . . ." He stopped, leaned back, and grinned. "I’m not going say any more with that," he said, drawing a big laugh. "But there were things we did last season that I had some input on."
Continuing about Gunther, Suh said “He’s a great guy, and he’s all ears—especially if you understand the fundamentals of what he wants with his defense. Just as the offense throws a million different shifts at you, we want to throw a million different shifts at them. Just like we have to think about what they’re doing, vice versa, we want them thinking about what we’re going to do.”
As Suh went back to his sandwich, I let his words percolate. In the midst of the most withering football drought of all time, listening to Suh’s excitement about the coming season was incredibly refreshing. He couldn’t be more ready to get back on the field and winning games, and all the talk about schematic creativity and forcing offenses to react had me salivating. It all made me incredibly hungry for Lions football. For the moment, though, Suh and I will be tiding ourselves over with avocadoes.