When defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was signed to the Buccaneers as a free agent back in May, one word kept coming up about his game: versatility.
When Todd Bowles was hired as the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator back in January, one word kept coming up about his system: versatility.
It's not a coincidence that the Bucs' biggest splash in free agency matched the new system he was coming into. Now, in the thick of training camp, we're starting to see how much of a fit Suh and the system really is.
"He will probably play a bunch of different places on the line," Bowles said back in May when the team signed Suh. "He can move across the line and play all three inside positions so he should have no problem with that."
True enough, Suh has primarily been utilized at the interior end position so far, and more often than not on the right side. But not exclusively. Suh was asked about outside linebacker Noah Spence's progression this preseason in a press conference on Wednesday and initially said he and Spence are next to each other on the line 'at times' before rolling his eyes a little bit as if to say, ok that's not the whole story.
"Or, it just kind of depends on what defense we're in," he amended.
That's a good thing, though. Moving players around on the line keeps opposing offenses guessing, which goes back to a fundamental trait of Bowles' defenses: confusion. It's also the reason the system and therefore the players themselves have to be versatile. See, even if the line is in the same alignment – switching the players that are in each position majorly affects the offensive line. It makes a difference if a tackle is where an end is supposed to be, for example, and it's going to result in a mismatch somewhere.
Suh, as a ten-year veteran, has been the model of versatility since the start of training camp, leading the way for a unit that was a little more stagnant last season. There have been instances in camp where we've seen Suh as far out as the 5-technique (outside the offensive tackle). He's rushed everything from the A-gap to the C-gap; maybe even the D-gap at this point. And he's not alone in his variety.
"I think our [most] interchangeable group that we have is the defensive line," Suh said. "We can play many different positions. I've done it in years past and always pride myself on being able to do that. So, wherever Coach [Todd] Bowles needs me, that's kind of where I am at – and being able to execute and do different things. We have a fair amount of different groupings. So, it just kind of depends on what grouping we're particularly going against and really what the offense wants to put out."
This versatility insulates the unit from injury a little bit, too. Players are cross-trained at different positions all along the line and therefore, have better range. It means if a player were to go down, there are multiple players that can probably take his place in different packages.
The approach also opens up opportunities for the players behind the line. It's like the defense is one giant puzzle and good luck to opposing offenses trying to figure it out – especially with a guy like Suh leading the way (literally).
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.