Ndamukong Suh may have gotten a "veteran maintenance day" during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' just-concluded week of training camp practice, but when it comes to game days he places a high degree of importance on being available.
As is common practice around the league, the Buccaneers have scheduled days for a handful of veterans to be held out of certain predetermined workouts in order to keep them fresh for the snaps that really count. In most cases, these are players whose deep well of experience mean they can prepare for a game or a season with fewer reps than most of their young teammates. Suh may be on that list, but he has also used the rest of the calendar year to prepare to play a lot in the regular season.
"It's something I pride myself on," he said. "I really train to play 900 to 1,000 snaps every single season, and I've been averaging somewhere in the realm of 850 to 950 snaps per year throughout my career. So I train for it. I expect to play those snaps and I've never been a person who's saying, 'Well, I'm at halftime, I've got 25 snaps – well, I can only go 25 more.' If we end up having 50 more I'm ready to go 50 more. There's no questions, ifs, ands or buts about it. I'm aware of it and I think the coaches are, and we have protocols that can help throughout the weeks. But when [it's] Sunday and the lights come on, all that goes out the window."
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Suh has definitely mastered the underrated ability that is availability. He has never missed a game or a start in his 10-year career. Coming into 2019, his first season with the Buccaneers, he was riding a streak of seven straight seasons in which he played at least 853 snaps. In that span, he twice topped 970 snaps and he never participated in fewer than 82% of his team's defensive plays. That percentage dropped just a bit to 77% last year but that still accounted for 874 defensive snaps. Simply put, his teams have always wanted him on the field as much as possible and he has never failed to respond.
Suh's availability also means that he's always there to provide an example for younger players, in this case most especially Vita Vea, the Buccaneers' 2018 first-round draft pick. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said earlier in the offseason that Vea, who quietly had a very strong second season, would likely see more snaps in 2020, too.
"You look at a guy who's a consummate professional from the standpoint of taking care of his body, training, eating right, doing all the little things like that," said Defensive Line Coach Kacey Rodgers of Suh. "Then to be out there with Vita, a young, upcoming player seeing a vet like Suh, the way he works, prepares, and the things he's seen over the course of his career. That greatly helps a young player like Vita."
Suh, Vea and Will Gholston were the key figures in a run defense that was the league's best in 2019 and wants to be even better in 2020. That goal and Suh's professionalism were among many topics regarding the Bucs' defensive line that were discussed at the end of the week of camp practice. Here are a few more:
* The drafting of Nebraska's Khalil Davis in the sixth round in April and the recent pick-up of veteran Kyle Love has added a couple new elements to the Bucs' assortment of assets on the interior defensive line.
"We just added Kyle here not too long ago, but Kyle is a jack-of-all-trades," said Rodgers. "Kyle gives you the flexibility of a guy that can play nose, play three[-technique], play the four-technique, so that's very valuable. And [he's] a professional, a guy that can play on short notice and play multiple spots on short notice. That has been a pleasant surprise for us.
"And then also with Khalil the thing that jumps out as we keep watching him, he's a very explosive guy. Actually, I didn't know he was as explosive as he was. He's a very explosive guy. He's kind of got an element that we're missing with all our other guys. You would say they're strong and powerful. Now you add a quick-twitch type person. It's a change of pace and it's an element we didn't have."
Beau Allen, part of the Bucs' D-Line depth last year, departed in free agency but the Bucs have definitely kept the depth strong in the middle. Even better, it's depth with a lot of variety. The team is good position to stay strong up front even if one of their primary contributors has to miss a game or two. In addition to Davis and Love, additional potential contributors include Jeremiah Ledbetter, Patrick O'Connor and Rakeem "Nacho" Nunez-Roches.
"The way we approach it, everybody is very much interchangeable," said Rodgers. "We'll have a depth chart [that says], 'He plays this, he plays that, he plays that,' and then if something happens we'll make the changes and just move on.
"The more you practice each day, to me their job descriptions are filling out. I'm looking at Khalil, you see the quickness and the explosiveness. The same thing with [Jeremiah] Ledbetter. Then you've got some length with Pat [O'Connor]. You've got experience, size and strength with Suh. You've got bulk with Vita. Nacho bulked up. If I'm looking at them, they're all multi-faceted and can do a lot of different jobs for us."
* As the heat at camp practices has built and the addition of live periods has raised the intensity, there has been a noticeable rise in trash-talking between the offense and defense. As Head Coach Bruce Arians has noted on several occasions this week, one of the more prolific talkers has been Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
As Arians noted, Nunez-Roches has routinely backed up his talk. His strong start to camp could portend a bigger role than he had in 2019, when he was on the field for 301 snaps. The sixth-year veteran was already listed at 307 pounds last year but he's bigger now and it's working for him.
"As we stand today, I would probably say he was most improved so far [from] what I've seen coming back and the brief amount of work we've had together," said Rodgers. "The way we're going to use Nacho this year, he had to bulk up some. We had some changes in our line and where he fits with the pieces we got, he's going to have to really take some of the load [and] share some of the load with Vita [Vea] on the inside. He needed to bulk up and he took the challenge. So far, he's making some pretty good strides at practice."
* In his first year as a Buccaneer, Ndamukong Suh tied for fifth on the team with 2.5 sacks. Suh, who has been to five Pro Bowls and has been named first-team All-Pro three times, has had higher sack totals in his career. But the unanimous consensus is that his impact on the Bucs' defense was much greater than those 2.5 sacks would indicate.
"He would tell you he's very disappointed because, like everyone else, he wants the big sack numbers and everything," said Rogers. "But, last year he had a lot of quarterback hits and you had a couple of dynamic people on the edges. What he was able to do on the inside was force some things. He still gets a lot of attention inside, so his presence helps open it up for everybody. Right now, we're preaching unselfish. We just want the sack – we don't care who gets it or who makes the plays. We just want to make plays. From that standpoint he's been really good and valuable. The guy – throughout his career – gets some shots here and there, but he's a very unselfish player."
Suh still commanded double-team blocks on a frequent basis, which helped create better pass-rush opportunities for Shaquil Barrett (NFL-leading 19.5 sacks) and Jason Pierre-Paul (8.5 sacks in 10 games). Suh thinks that dynamic could flip a little bit in 2020.
"I think it's a sign of respect when it comes to the double-teams in those particular situations," he said. "I'm hoping because of Shaq's amazing year last year, as well as JPP, the nuances of Vita and all the other guys that we have, that people start to forget about me and don't slide to me. I'd love to see a lot more one-on-ones and take advantage of those. It remains to be seen. But I've always looked at my job as, whatever is need to get done I'm happy to do. But I am going to join the party as far as making plays and getting things done, without question. So I'm excited in a lot of ways. As long as we're winning, I'm happy."