Most NFL teams concluded their minicamps Thursday, a few hours after the 2018 World Cup kicked off in Russia with the home country registering a 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. In the run-up to the competition, the 49ers staged a (poor) juggling competition while Washington cornerback Josh Norman broke down the field, ultimately siding with Brazil. But few players will be diving into the monthlong event like Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He says soccer was his first love as an athlete, and he only had to give it up after he began growing into this 6′ 4″, 307-pound frame. Before that, there was talk in the Suh household of sending him to Europe to train at an academy. Suh’s sister played for the Cameroonian National Team in the 2008 African Women’s Championship, and his father briefly played professionally for FC Saarbrücken in Germany.
In his NFL career, Suh has only had one chance to show off his booting talents. He hit the upright. “I’m still mad about that,” Suh says. “Hopefully I get a chance to get a field goal in a real game.” In Detroit, Suh found a soccer soulmate in fellow defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah. Ansah would often head to Suh’s home on Saturdays to watch Premier League action. In Miami, Suh saw soccer culture flourish in the locker room, particularly after the Dolphins’ stadium played host to an El Clasico exhibition. “That’s where guys went, ‘I didn’t realize ndamthere’s this many fans for this sport and they are this passionate,'” Suh says. And now in Los Angeles, Suh has already made plans with punter Johnny Hekker to catch some World Cup matches together.
With Cameroon failing to qualify for this summer’s field, Suh has rallied behind Nigeria, which opens its tournament against Croatia on Saturday. Suh’s soccer passion has taken him to matches around the world (including Croatia, where he once considered buying a team), but his love for the sport is most often on display in the backyard of his father’s house, where the grass has been replaced by artificial turf to better host Suh’s juggling competitions and 2-on-2 matches with his sisters. There, everyone knows what “football” is.
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1. Zack Martin is now the highest paid guard in the NFL after signing a six-year, $84 million deal with the Cowboys. The 2014 first-round pick (taken instead of Johnny Manziel) has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons.
2. ESPN spoke with a dozen NFL execs to put together a definitive list of offseason grades for each team, with the Rams and Patriots scoring high marks while the Lions and Panthers left experts scratching their heads. Meanwhile, The Ringer ranked the top 10 pass-catching groups in the NFL
3. A jury awarded Reggie Bush $12.5 million from the Rams after finding the franchise liable for an injury the running back suffered during a game at the Rams’ former home, the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
4. Among the rookies in Charlotte is 33-year-old Jennifer King, the Panthers’ first female coaching intern, who has worked with the team’s wideouts. “This is for the little girls,” King said. “I want them to know that if this is what they want to do, they can do it.”
5. According to Chargers GM Tom Telesco, the Antonio Gates era might not be over after all.
6. Larry Johnson and Clinton Portis got together in Miami to discuss their darkest moments—on camera—in an effort to help the next generation of players.
7. Washington used to claim that as many as 200,000 names sat on a waiting list for season tickets. Now, the team is saying they’re available immediately for anyone interested. (But, hey, how about those Caps?)
8. New Giant Nate Solder had his knee checked out after being involved in some minicamp roughhousing, but it seems no damage was done.
9. The Rams took practice off on Thursday so the team could visit its future digs.
10. The NFLPA is reportedly looking into legal avenues for fighting the league’s new anthem policy.
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Among the reasons to play hookie from work, a round of golf with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler is one of the more acceptable excuses.
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