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Is Ndamukong Suh a dirty player?

Chad Henne, Ndamukong Suh

Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne (7) is sacked by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Miami, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)


Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh quickly developed a reputation as a great player during his rookie year. When his second year in the NFL began with Friday night’s preseason game against the Bengals, he also bolstered his burgeoning reputation as a dirty player.

Dirty is really the only word to use to describe Suh grabbing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton by the head, knocking off his helmet and viciously slamming him to the ground. Suh got the Lions a 15-yard penalty, and he’ll also likely get fined by the league office.

It won’t be his first fine: Suh was fined $7,500 for a cheap shot on Jake Delhomme during last year’s preseason, and $15,000 for a brutal (but legal, in the eyes of some observers) hit on Jay Cutler during the regular season.

But Suh doesn’t particularly care if he gets fined. Suh got $40 million guaranteed on the contract he signed as the No. 2 pick in last year’s NFL draft, so fining him $7,500 or $15,000 is chump change. And Suh, who was called for at least four personal fouls last season, has shrugged it off in the past when asked to explain himself after drawing penalties.

It’s not my job to really worry about whether I hit a guy too hard or not,” Suh said of the hit on Delhomme. “I was just going after the ball and trying to make a play, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

“I want to be known as a player that plays hard at all times and is aggressive and gets after the ball and tries to help his team win,” Suh said after the hit on Cutler. “My mentality right now is, I owe it to my teammates and fans and former players and my coaches to play as hard as I can.”

Those words are music to the ears of Detroit fans, who desperately want to see some toughness on the Lions. And Suh comes across as a likable guy when dealing with fans and the media. Off the field, Suh isn’t a James Harrison who’s going to lay into Roger Goodell.

But on the field, Suh is every bit as vicious as Harrison, and if the league is serious about emphasizing player safety, it can’t have Suh repeatedly flout the rules and then shrug off the fines as simply the byproduct of trying to help his team win. Maybe it will take a Harrison-sized $75,000 fine to get Suh’s attention.

At the moment, Suh shows no signs of changing his ways: He relishes the thought that he and his fellow Lions defensive linemen will be known for their brutal play.

We want to be a feared front four,” Suh said before the Bengals game.

Suh may have already accomplished that goal. But he may have done it in part by crossing the line between tough and dirty.