LOS ANGELES — He says he loves Detroit and the people who live there. His affection is especially strong for people who mentored him on and off the field during his five seasons with the Lions.
But Rams defensive lineman and ex-Husker Ndamukong Suh does not go cuddly when asked about the team that selected him with the second pick in the 2010 draft.
This week, his message came through loud and clear when he said he would “refrain” from commenting about the Lions organization.
On Sunday, for the first time since he left Detroit to sign a then-record-breaking contract with the Miami Dolphins, the former Husker star returns to play at Ford Field, where he established himself as one of the NFL’s most dominant and controversial players.
Suh’s homecoming is with a Rams team that is 10-1 and looking to clinch a second consecutive NFC West title.
Suh, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Rams in March, is playing a prominent — but far from starring — role for a defense that includes tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year.
Suh entered the season with five Pro Bowl appearances and 52 sacks in eight NFL seasons. Playing tackle and end in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, he has 31⁄2 sacks and two fumble recoveries for a defense that ranks 20th in the NFL, but he has made key plays when necessary.
“His versatility and flexibility has been instrumental,” coach Sean McVay said. “He’s made a couple huge rushes in crunch-time situations.”
Phillips was aware that the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Suh could play more than nose tackle. But he was surprised by the 31-year-old’s ability to play every position on the line.
“He’s still a powerful guy,” Phillips said. “Sometimes it takes two and three guys to block him, and that makes a difference.”
Suh has “played solid,” provided an experienced presence and fit in well with teammates, defensive line coach Bill Johnson said.
“He ain’t a guy that’s going to make you laugh a lot — and you ain’t going to make him laugh a lot,” Johnson said. “But I tell you what: He’ll do what you ask him to do.”
Suh incurred a fine for a hit on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in Week 10, one of three Rams fined for their actions in that game. But he has otherwise not been cited for the type of conduct that resulted in nine disciplinary actions by the NFL during his five seasons with the Lions.
Suh said he would not do a complete self-evaluation of his play until the season ended. But he said he has played well.
“I’ve done a lot of good things, been in a lot of different positions,” he said. “We’re winning games. That’s what’s most important.”
According to overthecap.com, Suh earned more than $124 million with the Lions and Dolphins before the Rams acquired him during a flurry of offseason moves that included trades for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and receiver Brandin Cooks.
Before the season, the Donald-Suh pairing was regarded as perhaps one of the top tackle combinations in NFL history.
Donald has produced multiple highlight-reel plays and recorded a league-best 141⁄2 sacks, while Suh has played a quieter role.
“We’ve got a great relationship — and I think on the football field we play well together,” Suh said. “Whether we’re next to each other, opposite each other, I think it throws offenses off.”
Suh’s presence has helped Donald, Phillips said.
“You certainly can’t double-team Aaron all the time, so that’s certainly a factor,” he said. “But (Suh’s) been a factor in his own right.”
Suh also has helped other defensive players.
He has mentored rookie lineman John Franklin-Myers, and safety John Johnson described him as “a force” regardless of his statistics.
“He draws attention from every team he’s going to play,” Johnson said. “The guy in front of him is going to have a long game regardless of the situation, and so that puts guys like me at ease. … Just knowing he’s on the field makes my job easier.”
Lions coach Matt Patricia cited Suh’s size and strength and “the violence with which he plays inside” as reasons Suh still presents problems and demands attention.
“His ability to knock the line of scrimmage back is just tremendous,” Patricia said.
Suh said he won’t see many familiar faces on the field Sunday other than Lions cornerback Darius Slay and end Ezekiel Ansah.
His relationship with Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, the first pick in the 2009 draft, remains curious.
Asked if he was looking forward to hitting Stafford, Suh said, “He’s just another quarterback that’s in our way of getting where we want to go.”
In October, Suh posted to Instagram that the Rams’ Jared Goff was the best quarterback he had played with. Asked this week whether that was about Goff, or a message to other quarterbacks, Suh said he loved Goff and also enjoyed playing with Jay Cutler with the Dolphins.
Apprised of Suh’s comments by Detroit reporters, Stafford said, “Well done. Classic Suh. Pretty good stuff.”
Suh went to the playoffs twice with the Lions and once with the Dolphins, but he has never played on a team that won a division title or advanced past the wild-card round.
The Rams appear on track to achieve both feats, and possibly make a run to the Super Bowl, which would add to Suh’s résumé.
“Everybody wants a Super Bowl,” Suh said. “And, obviously, I’ve been very, very blessed to have individual accolades as well as some team accolades. … So I think the next step is continuing to go further in the playoffs and hopefully get a championship.”