Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Bob Brown addressed Husker fans at the 2004 Colorado game.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Hall-of-Famer Brown Sees Suh as All-Pro; Smith Sees the Next Reggie White

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-sider

To "Respond to Randy" click on the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest" on the new screen. Please include your name and city/town/state and share your thoughts on the opinions expressed by four Nebraska legends about Ndamukong Suh.

Talk to Nebraska’s four highest-draft choices in modern NFL history before Ndamukong Suh reached that same status Thursday night, and you come to two quick conclusions: 1) the Detroit Lions, even though they drafted second instead of first in the 2010 NFL Draft, got the best player in the draft; and 2) Suh is destined to become an even better pro player than he was in college.

Bob Brown, a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year, predicts that Suh will become a perennial all-pro selection. Not surprisingly, Irving Fryar and Dean Steinkuhler are in wholesale agreement with Brown's observation.

Neil Smith, the only one of NU's four highest draftees who played defense, goes one step better than those three. He insists that Suh can be the second coming of Reggie White, the most-honored defensive end in NFL history.

We can’t blame anyone for relying on Mel Kiper’s insights for a mock draft, but please, do not discount these four Husker legends for their ability to go beyond the hype and into the future. Yes, they are a bit prejudiced. But before you dismiss the validity of their bullish views on how Suh can take the league by storm when he joins a struggling team, consider this: Smith, Brown, Fryar and Steinkuhler played a combined 48 years in the NFL, and they were honored a total of 20 times as Pro Bowlers.

Fryar, of course, is the only modern-day Husker to be drafted first in the entire NFL Draft. Brown, the only modern-day Husker to be inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was drafted as a second choice in the first round – just like Steinkuhler was in 1984, Smith in 1988 and Suh on Thursday night.

“Suh reminds me so much of Reggie White. I see Reggie all over him,” Smith said, knowing perfectly well that it’s high praise to mention an NFL rookie in the same sentence with a 13-time Pro Bowler who is only 1.5 sacks behind Bruce Smith, the all-time NFL sack leader. White's 198.5 career sacks are 94 more than Smith had.

“I’ve done enough studying of Reggie to base my opinion on this,” Smith said. “I see the same kind of heart, the same kind of work ethic, the same kind of overall athleticism. Reggie was big, but he could play any position on the line of scrimmage. Suh has the same capabilities. I know putting a rookie up there alongside a legend right now is saying a lot, but Ndamukong can be that same type of impact player.”

Two First-Round D-Linemen Just Shook Their Heads

Smith came to that rather elevated analysis while sitting in the stands with fellow first-round Husker defensive lineman Danny Noonan, a former Dallas Cowboy. They sat in awe while watching Suh throw Texas quarterback Colt McCoy around like a rag doll in the Big 12 Championship Game.

“I had the Reggie White comparison in my head before that game,” Smith said, “but I thought that game was his true stepping stone – his crossroad to greatness. I saw it as the statement game for him. It was a big stage, and big players show up in big games.”

White, a.k.a. “The Minister of Defense”, played big in all kinds of big games. “Reggie was one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen, pound for pound,” Smith said. “He was very big, but also very agile with great strength, athletic ability and intelligence. He put the fear of God in people. Every time he lined up, he kept people guessing.

“Suh can create the same kind of fear in people,” Smith said. “He can take over a game. He can be one of those players who can have the kind of impact that made this league what it was and still is.”

Smith envisions Suh reaching all-pro status by his third season, just like he did, because it takes that long for almost all NFL linemen to have a breakthrough season. “It’s not really fair for me as a defensive player to ask the question,” Smith said, “but you might ask some offensive players what they would think if they had to prepare to block Ndamukong Suh. Ask them this: ‘Would they be scared?’”

Well, as a matter of fact, we did ask one of the greatest pro football linemen ever that question, and Bob Brown, who has never been scared of anyone, said he would be very, very leery of facing a man like Suh.

“I like the kid because he’s absolutely tenacious,” Brown said. “I think he’s not only going to be a great player in the league, but become a perennial all-pro. As a Nebraska alumnus, I like the idea of a guy who will no doubt go into the College Football Hall of Fame and has all the potential in the world to become a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer as well. Will Shields will be our next guy in that group. I’d like to think that Suh will follow suit and attract more players to Nebraska just like him.”

Smith, Brown, Fryar and Steinkuhler all understand the need St. Louis had for a quarterback in the draft, but if they'd been the Rams’ general manager, none would have bypassed Suh to take Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.

“Everybody needs a quarterback, but you have to stop people, too, and this kid is a real stopper,” Brown said. “I don’t watch that much college football, but I like to watch Suh. He’s very, very aggressive, and that’s what I believe in – attack and attack all day long.

Suh Reminds Brown of the Defensive Version of Himself

“Suh just keeps coming after you all the time – at the point of attack, in the backfield, even downfield," Brown said. "This kid is great now, and he’s going to be even greater in the NFL. He just reminds me of a … a … well, he reminds me of a defensive ME. In my 10 years in the NFL, I thought I was the most aggressive lineman in the league. I was a product of Nebraska, and therefore, my job was to be the most physical player on the field. That’s the way Suh plays. I love to watch the kid. His motor never quits.”

Forget about Suh joining a struggling team in the Detroit Lions. “He’s going to elevate the play of everyone around him,” Brown said. “I see him beating the timetable and making all-pro by his second season, especially if he goes to training camp with the same attack mode he showed in college. Please tell Mr. Suh that there was one year when I played with the Eagles that we won only one game and lost 13, and I was the NFL Lineman of the Year. When you come from Nebraska, you bring it every play, every game, no matter what.”

Fryar also envisions all-pro honors in Suh’s future, but he’ll wait on a timetable. “I know one thing,” Fryar said. “Barring injury, Mr. Suh is going to have a long, successful, flourishing career in the NFL. He can definitely be an even better pro than college player because he has all the physical tools and the head to go with it.

“Pro coaches are always looking for guys who report to camp and want to get better,” Fryar said. “They have enough people who have peaked out in college and want to just reap the rewards. I don’t see that happening at all with Mr. Suh. He’s a big deal and the real deal. He won’t be any first-round bust by any stretch of the imagination.”

Fryar says he’s confident in making that statement because Suh’s aggression will be one of his biggest assets as a pro. “I played 17 years in the NFL (as long as any other Husker player in history), and I have a philosophy. My philosophy is you have to be the hammer and not the nail,” Fryar said. “Every guy eventually is going to be the nail as their career winds down. But as long as you deliver more blows than you absorb and be the hammer more than you are the nail, you’re going to play a long time in this league, stay healthy and make a difference.”

To Fryar, there is no doubt that Suh will be the hammer. “Oh, man,” he said. “He’s a difference maker, and offenses are going to have to game plan for him. They’ll have to account for him because he’s going to show up every play. He’s going to warrant double teams and a lot of other attention, and that’s what his coaches want … a defensive player that frees up your other players, even your whole defense, so the offense is on its heels instead of the other way around … like I said, be the hammer, not the nail.”

Fryar, Steinkuhler Made NFL History Together

Steinkuhler agrees with his former teammate. In 1984, Houston made Steinkuhler the No. 2 choice in the first round after New England drafted Fryar first, marking only the second time in NFL history – and the first time in 17 years – that the top two players were drafted from the same school.

“I think Ndamukong will be an all-pro by his second season,” Steinkuhler said. “Getting drafted by the Lions, he is going to see a lot more double teams than he has in the past. I agree that teams will have to game plan to stop Ndamukong, but that’s an honor. Some of his best efforts might not show up in the stat books, but when it takes two guys to block you – and it does with him – that really says something.”

Steinkuhler has a keen sense of Suh because one of his sons, former Husker captain Ty Steinkuhler, started alongside Suh in 2008. Another son, Baker, understudied Suh last season and is considered by many to be the one who will succeed Suh this fall.

“Both Ty and Baker have a great deal of respect for Ndamukong and rightfully so,” Steinkuhler said. “They’ve watched him grow and mature and become a great player. They know he’s gifted, but they also know how hard he worked to get where he is. It did not come easy. Nothing ever does. I’m sure there were many days when Ndamukong could have just said: ‘I’ve done enough for the day, and I’m ready to go home.’ But that’s not how he practiced or how he played. He’s shown both of my boys how hard you have to work, no matter how good you are.

“Personally, I don’t know how anyone could have been drafted ahead of him,” Steinkuhler said. “With his athletic skills, mindset and proven performance, he’s almost as sure a thing as you’re ever going to get. If I learned one thing in the NFL, it’s not really how gifted you are athletically, it’s how smart you become. Ndamukong has both working for him. He’s always been very blessed with the physical talent. What I think is more important than that is that he will come to work every day ready to learn and ready to get better. And in my opinion, that’s why the sky is the limit for him.”

Respond to Randy

Voices from Husker Nation

I loved Suh’s response last week in New York when some reporter asked him what he would say to a recruit who was thinking about visiting Nebraska. Suh told the reporter that he would encourage the recruit to visit Nebraska and everywhere else he planned to visit. Then, when he got done with all his visits, he would know why Nebraska is better, and he wouldn’t have to ask anyone. I think that’s the best recruiting pitch I’ve ever heard from any former player. I can’t wait to get back to the Texas game and see what that weight room looks like with Suh’s name on it. That should create another successful pitch to every recruit who will visit Nebraska in the future. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California  

We all know that the program still isn’t where Bo wants it to be, but guys like Suh and coaches like the Pelinis are getting us there faster than any of us thought possible. Congrats to Suh for redefining Nebraska football and for the generosity he’s shown to his adopted state. That weight room meant everything to him and his teammates. It also means a lot to fans because we got used to watching Nebraska beat people physically, even if we didn’t always win the game. Thanks Bob, Irving, Dean, Neil and Ndamukong. You are all the best of Nebraska football! Craig Harris, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The thing that struck me most, among many things, was the common threads of toughness and aggressiveness. All the former all-pros I had the privilege to see play in person mentioned those two things as the "Nebraska Way". As I see it, those attributes are rightly emphasized by the current coaching staff!  That is why NU is on its way back to the type of program that we were before. John C Thomason, Creighton, Nebraska

“I remember reading about Bill McCartney speaking in Lincoln a couple years ago and telling Coach Osborne that no one feared Nebraska anymore because we were no longer known for being a physical team. That didn’t just sadden Coach Osborne and Coach McCartney. We all hated to lose our identity, but look at Nebraska now. We’re a physical team again. Just ask Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona. William Carrell, Ft. Collins, Colorado

You can see the link between the way Bob Brown, Irving Fryar, Dean Steinkuhler and Neil Smith described Nebraska football in the past and the direction they see Nebraska heading in the future. They know that Suh has been a big reason why we’ve returned to our roots. His highly physical style seemed to set a tone that fellow seniors like Larry Asante. Phillip Dillard and Matt O’Hanlon followed. They all played like Nebraska seniors used to play – like their hair was on fire. What a legacy they left for all current and future Blackshirts. Gene Samuelson, Rapid City, South Dakota

Great piece. It must be a lot of fun talking with Husker legends about the most recent legend. I'm with the guys who said, while they understand St. Louis needs a QB, to turn down the closest thing to a sure thing in the last 10 years is stupid. It reminds me of Peyton Manning's great - "If you don't pick me, I'll beat you for the next 15 years."  St. Louis is going to hate seeing Detroit for a long time, and I'm a Rams fan.  But I've become an overnight Lions fan. In fact, if my DVR could be programmed far enough ahead, I'd be setting it up for Lions' games today. Should be fun. I haven't followed Detroit since Cory Schlesinger left. When I remember that name, all I can think is tough as nails. Jeff Smith, Marietta, Georgia

Isn't it something when all of our own legends unite to support the emergence of another legend? The thing I read behind their own words is their desire for Suh to be the best yet. To me, that's tradition - guys wanting someone to be the new standard, so he can help bring in more just like him. Only in Nebraska can you see that kind of impassioned support from the players themselves. Makes you proud to be a Husker, doesn't it? Brad Sanderson, San Anontio, Texas



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