KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Casey Wiegmann has faced just about every fearsome defensive lineman in the NFL over the past 15 seasons. It comes with the territory when you’ve had success on the offensive line, one of the least glamorous spots on the field.
John Randle comes to mind when the Kansas City Chiefs center is asked who’s stood out in Wiegmann’s long, distinguished career. Ndamukong Suh may soon join him atop the list.
“I’m looking forward to facing him,” Wiegmann said.
A year ago, Suh earned a reputation for being one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league in his first season with the Detroit Lions, wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and running backs alike. He anchors a front four that’s a big reason the Lions are one of the promising young teams in the league.
He’s also earned a reputation for being a dirty player: Suh’s been fined at least three times for late hits, one against Cleveland last preseason that he freely admits was an unnecessary blow. But the former Nebraska star takes umbrage at any accusation that he’s a cheap-shot artist, explaining instead that his motor simply runs at a high rate every single down.
“I’m always going to play hard,” Suh said. “To me, personally, I don’t think any of my hits was unnecessary except maybe the Cleveland hit in preseason a year ago. It’s unfortunate I was fined for some of those, but I’m going to keep playing hard and trying to help my team win.”
The Lions have been doing plenty of that lately.
The longtime doormat won its last four games a year ago and started off this season with a road victory over Tampa Bay, the same team that blanked the Chiefs in the preseason. All those years of high draft picks in Detroit have finally paid off, with young breakout stars such as Suh, quarterback Matt Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson changing the entire complexion of the organization.
Suh, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, started every game in his rookie season and finished with 48 tackles and 10 sacks. He won The Associated Press 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, becoming the only rookie on the All-Pro team.
Despite standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 307 pounds, he’s still athletic enough to have intercepted a pass and recover a fumble for a touchdown.
“Some of the problems that Suh presents I don’t know there are answers for, to be quite honest with you,” Kansas City coach Todd Haley said. “This guy’s a dominant inside player that can really disrupt the game plan if you let him, and you just got to find ways to not allow that to happen.”
The Chiefs struggled mightily stopping the Buffalo defensive line in a 41-7 loss last weekend, a group of guys whose pedigree hardly stacks up to that of the Lions’ fearsome foursome up front. Yet Kansas City’s top-ranked ground game from a year ago managed only 108 yards rushing, and quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked twice and knocked to the ground a couple more times.
The lack of time he had forced Cassel to abandon downfield throws and toss the ball out into the flat, and the result was 22 completions for a measly 119 yards.
Suh anchors the middle of the Detroit line, but defensive tackle Corey Williams has emerged as another star, and their ability to tie up the middle has allowed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch to take off after a quarterback.
“Suh’s a great player and his reputation speaks for itself,” Cassel said. “He creates some mismatch problems when you let him go one-on-one, but at the same time, he’s human. I don’t think our guys are going to go in there scared of him.”
Wiegmann certainly isn’t. The longtime center simply shrugged when asked what kind of challenge Suh presents, pointing out that “there’s nobody in this league up front that’s a slouch.”