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Suh leaves an impression, especially on Slauson

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Lions DT Ndamukong Suh leaves impression wherever he goes, especially with Jets' Matt Slauson

Published: Saturday, November 06, 2010, 5:00 AM

Conor Orr/The Star-Ledger

Day after day, the battles would continue beneath the blistering Nebraska sun.

Future Jets guard Matt Slauson against future Lions defensive tackle and 2010

No. 1 overall pick Ndamukong Suh, both Cornhuskers, shoving the life out of one another for the twisted amusement of then-head coach Bill Callahan and the teammates rounding the perimeter at practice.

“We’d match them up and the whole team would circle around and watch them go one-on-one to see who would win it,” said Callahan, now the offensive line coach with the Jets. “There was a little bit of peer pressure in that aspect.”

Slauson was strong and built — believed to be the best guard in the Big 12, he says. Suh had a keen understanding of the mistakes offensive linemen could make and exploited them at any opportunity. As a junior guard at Grant High in Portland, Ore., he paved the way for two 1,400-yard rushers.

The matchups would become frequent and more explosive with each meeting.

“I wouldn’t say me and Suh were best friends,” Slauson said, laughing. “There were times we got in fights during spring ball, during camp. Emotions go, you get tired and Suh just happened to be the guy I was going against.”

Tomorrow, their paths will cross for the first time since those days in Lincoln, Neb. And although Suh won’t be primarily lined up on Slauson — Jets coaches say guard Brandon Moore will shoulder that responsibility — the rookie defensive tackle will still be cause for concern for any one of the Jets’ front five.

Seven games into his first season, Suh already has 6½ sacks, 2½ ahead of the pace set by Jevon Kearse, who holds the record for sacks by a first-year player with 14½.

Those who watch him on film notice an internal motor that doesn’t slow, an instinct off the ball far advanced for his experience and mechanics that complement the Lions’ one-gap penetration defense, ranked in the top 10 in tackles for losses.

“He’s explosive, he’s very instinctive, he sees the football,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said in a teleconference. “He doesn’t get tied up on blockers, and he’s a really hard worker. He’s very serious about what he does.”

Suh’s high school coach, Gary Thorson, figured as much when they first met. Assistant coaches had seen Suh, then a freshman, around school and nagged Thorson to come in and try to recruit him.

He peered out into the courtyard during lunchtime and saw Suh. A “big, old 280-pound Samoan kid,” then a senior, had just taken his basketball and Suh wanted it back.

“It upset Ndamukong and he just went right after the other kid,” Thorson said. “And I just remember thinking this kid is big, he’s fast, aggressive, we’ve got to get him out for the team.”

It’s why the one mental snapshot he’ll always keep of Suh is synonymous with that brute toughness — a moment where the 300-pound tackle dragged three Lakewood (Ore.) High linemen through the backfield en route to the quarterback during a game his senior year.

It’s why Slauson will always remember those long afternoons at football practice, scrapping back and forth, constantly adjusting and shifting his position to keep up, smiling when he got the upper hand.

It’s why a smirk still lays across his face when he thinks about the few times he and Suh might be able to rekindle those battles tomorrow.

“There will be opportunities for it,” Slauson said. “I know Suh comes over to my side a couple of times per game.”

Conor Orr: corr@starledger.com

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