First came the $114 million, now Ndamukong Suh has a new head coach and defensive coordinator intent on getting the most out of the supremely talented but disappointing defensive tackle.
The Miami Dolphins expected more, much more, out of the embattled Suh when Stephen Ross handed the four-time Pro Bowl player a guaranteed paycheck of $60 million back in March.
Through four games they’ve gotten exactly 10 tackles and no sacks from the former No. 2 overall pick and he, perhaps more than any other player, is the underachiever who defines Joe Philbin and Kevin Coyle’s inability to get the most out of the players they were furnished with.
“I’m very hard on myself,” Suh said earlier this week when talking to reporters. “I don’t think I’ve played up to my level of ability.”
Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum agreed with his high-priced acquisition, recently admitting that Suh has not played to the level he did for so many years in Detroit.
“I don’t think anyone has played up to their level,” Suh countered. “I think that at the end of the day we have a lot of room to grow as a unit defensively, offensively and special teams wise. We can always get better and do things to help us win games.”
That’s a bit of an understatement because Suh came into the 2015 season with the reputation as the second-best defensive lineman in football, behind only Houston’s J.J. Watt. The lack of production on paper, however, isn’t necessarily the issue, according to Suh.
“I can have zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, zero tackles as long as we’re winning games and I’m having an effect on the games,” he said. “A defensive tackle can have no statistics and have an effect on the game — it’s been proven.”
What’s also been proven is Suh hasn’t been effective at all in Miami, at least not yet. And his lackluster play has defined the Dolphins’ defensive limitations.
A quarter of the way into the season, the Miami defense has all of one sack, an almost laughable pace that would have the group at four after 16 games if things continued to move at a similar trajectory. The next worst pass-rushing team in the NFL has five more quarterback takedowns than Suh and his cohorts.
“People don’t give out sacks. They’re not free,” the big man claimed. “So at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out there and earn them and fight for them.”
Fight has often been the problem with the Dolphins’ stop unit and the incomprehensible decline in production had the locker room chirping about Coyle’s complicated schemes. So tough-talking, interim head coach Dan Campbell showed the defensive chief the door in favor of elevating defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo, who plans to simplify things in order to get the defense playing as fast as possible.
Suh disrespected Coyle by allegedly wearing sneakers instead of cleats as a protest during a practice before the team’s blowout loss to the New York Jets in London, something that just aggravated a somewhat shoddy reputation.
Given a chance to explain his behavior, Suh went the clandestine route, “a lot of people can’t handle the truth. I’ll leave it at that.”
The veteran didn’t leave out his excitement over the fact that he has a pair of new bosses, though, and he is looking forward to the new defensive philosophy.
“I think we are going to have an opportunity to go out there and play as hard and as fast as we can,” Suh claimed. “I think the biggest thing is just going out there and executing, like I said before. At the end of the day, if you don’t execute, no matter what kind of defense you’re calling or whoever is calling it you’re not going to be successful.”
That said, Suh clearly loves Campbell’s approach which is based on physicality and toughness, traits that have always affixed themselves to the interior lineman.
“I love Dan’s opinion,” he said. “I love his motto in toeing line and just being a physical and downhill team; setting the tempo and setting the tone of the game. I think that’s what we need to do on the defensive side of the ball. If we want to be successful, we’ve got to go out there and set the tone.”
Setting that tone and erasing the excuses also puts the microscope solely on the players, starting with the $100-million man.
“We have an opportunity to go out there and set the tone, let offenses play against us and we set the tone,” Suh said. “Let them understand how we want to play football.”
As an interior rusher with the Lions, Suh was always successful and dominant more often that not, reaching at least eight sacks three different times. His presence in South Florida should have made thinks easier on Cameron Wake, the Tasmanian Devil-like edge rusher who has reached double-digits three times in Miami without Suh.
“As far as I’m concerned my job is to go out there and create havoc,” he said. “Make offenses respect me and allow me opportunities to create plays for my other teammates.”
Suh claimed he didn’t need any added motivation but admitted Campbell’s tough-guy personality is a welcome change from the laid back stylings of Philbin.
“People can definitely feed off of that personality,” the Nebraska product said. “Me personally, I’m going to continue to be who I am and do the things that allow me to play at a high level.”
And his teammates?
“It’s only Week 6 and we have 12 games (to go),” Suh said. “We put ourselves in a hole, but it’s not too late to get us out of it.”
— John McMullen is the national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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