Ndamukong Suh is one of the newest pieces on a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that is working feverishly to be much better than it was in 2018. And Suh doesn't mind having the responsibility of leading that charge.
"I've always believed, as your front seven goes, especially your front four – and really kind of our front five – goes is really how a defense should go," he said on Thursday, three days before his first real game as a Buccaneer. "So it's up to us up front to take care of business, stop the run game and then obviously get a chance to get off the passer."
Suh, who comes to the Buccaneers after one year with the Rams, three in Miami and five in Detroit, is the most experienced and accomplished player in that front four. He has 56.0 career sacks, with at least 4.0 in each of his nine seasons, and he's also considered one of the best run-stoppers in the league. He said on Thursday that he sees a "tremendous amount of talent" all around him, and the Bucs could be especially hard to handle in the middle when they pair Suh with fellow former first-rounder Vita Vea.
As much as the Bucs want to improve on their 38 sacks from last year and get more consistent pressure on the passer, Suh emphasizes that the first order of business for the defensive front is to stop the run. The 2019 season kicks off with an immediate challenge in that regard, as the incoming San Francisco 49ers ranked 13th in rushing yards per game (118.9) and 12th in yards per carry (4.50) last year.
"I think no matter who you're playing, you want to make them one-dimensional, but it's even more of an emphasis when you have a team that focuses on running," said Suh. "They were a top leading rushing team, even though they weren't successful in the win-loss column, but they did a great job [running the ball] and I saw that last year in L.A."
The 49ers running game remained productive last season even after Jerick McKinnon was placed on injured reserve at the end of August. The emergence of Matt Breida, a former undrafted free agent who rushed for 834 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. The 49ers added another piece to the backfield in free agency this season, signing former Falcon Tevin Coleman, which is now proving even more important as McKinnon has landed on I.R. again.
Suh, who faced the 49ers twice last year in NFC West play, says they have a strong offensive front as well, one that is seeing the benefits of continuity. The front five of tackles Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley, guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person and center Weston Richburg combined to make 79 of a possible 80 O-Line starts for San Francisco last year, and all five are back.
"I know all five of their offensive linemen, they kept that solid, as I watched film in the preseason," said Suh. "I believe they had some injuries but I think they'll be fine. Looking forward to that. They've got a great running game, one that we have to definitely stop. The passing game, 85, [George] Kittle is a great specimen and he gets out in the open. They're very creative with what they do with him, as well as 44 [FB Kyle Juszczyk], so we'll definitely have our hands full."
That front five as noted by Suh above refers to the team's alignment in its base 3-4 package with three down linemen (including Suh) and two outside linebackers as pass-rushers. The two inside linebackers who operate behind that group – Lavonte David and rookie Devin White – round out the front seven and will be able to make more plays if Suh and company can keep opposing blockers occupied and out of the second level. Suh said on Thursday that he is looking forward to freeing up the gifted rookie behind him to make plays. And, indeed, when it's all said and done it might be White or David with the most robust stat line, or it might be a couple of the young defensive backs racking up splash plays like interceptions. As Suh knows, however, it all starts up front.
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL's 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.