In assessing his nine-year (so far) NFL career, new Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ndamukong Suh lets his numbers speak for themselves. That's a valid strategy when your numbers include five Pro Bowls, three Associated Press first-team All-Pro selections, 56 sacks, 166 quarterback hits and 142 starts in 142 games played.
Suh amassed those figures with the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams, and with that last team advanced to his first Super Bowl in 2018. As an unrestricted free agent this spring, he was looking for a new NFL home to continue to, as he said on Friday, "have an opportunity to play at a high level."
He found that opportunity in Tampa, for a number of reasons. Here are three of them: the guy playing next to him, the guy playing behind him and the guy in front of him in the defensive meeting room.
The last of those three is Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who had spent the last four years as the head coach of the Jets. Bowles took a run at getting Suh to sign with New York a year ago before the former Dolphin ultimately chose the Rams. The connection didn't happen in 2018 but Suh got a second chance in 2019 and was eager to take it.
"I looked at going there and made the decision that I didn’t but wanted to team up with him and see how he and [Defensive Line Coach] Kacy Rodgers could help me continue to grow. I think as professionals we always want to find ways to continue to grow and meet great people and I met Todd probably like three or four years ago via somebody I highly respect in this game, Jim Washburn."
Bowles and Washburn, a long-time NFL assistant, overlapped in Philadelphia in 2012 and Suh later played for Washburn in Miami, which led to the Buccaneer coach and player first becoming acquainted. Suh appreciates Bowles' approach to directing an NFL defense.
"[It's] his personality, the way he looks at things, the way he wants to attack," said Suh. "I think [Head] Coach [Bruce] Arians also mentioned in the press conference the other day about being able to attack, be very aggressive, play up the field. Obviously, people have their responsibilities and whatnot, but I’ve always enjoyed being able to attack the defense."
In return, Suh offers Bowles and Arians something they have mentioned frequently this offseason as a desired trait in their players: flexibility. Suh can and probably will lineup just about anywhere along the Buccaneers' defensive front.
"If you want to look back at last year I played every single position and I pride myself being able to play 3-technique, nose, end, nine, seven, six – whatever you need me to do," he said. "I think it’s important for me as a professional [to] continue to grow and evolve in [those] aspects."
Just like Suh and Bowles never quite connected in New York, Suh also just missed being college teammates with one of the Buccaneers' top defenders, linebacker Lavonte David. Suh was drafted by the Lions second overall in 2010 after he had racked up 12.0 sacks as a senior in 2009 for Nebraska. David arrived in Lincoln in 2010, transferring in from Fort Scott Community College. The two former Huskers did eventually meet, however, and Suh is excited about teaming up with David.
"We’ve known each other over the years," said Suh. Obviously, the Nebraska connection is very tight and [I] look forward to … getting a chance to have him behind me. He’s very, very talented and he’s proved that throughout the years."
Finally, Suh's addition to the Bucs' defense gives him a chance to play alongside a lineman the Buccaneers hope will develop into one of the NFL's top interior disruptors. Tampa Bay selected defensive tackle Vita Vea with the 12th overall pick a year ago and, after a slow start caused by a leg injury, Vea played well down the stretch of his rookie season.
Vea is a massive man – listed at 6-4 and 347 pounds though he has reportedly shed some weight this offseason – with surprisingly nimble feet for that size. Earlier this week, while discussing the signing of Suh, Arians suggested that it would be very difficult for opponents to run up the middle on the Buccaneers when Vea and Suh are on the field together.
"I’ve watched a little bit of film," said Suh of Vea. "He definitely can move. Excited to team up with him. I have to meet him first and obviously get to know him, but exciting opportunity. Obviously, being able to play with first rounders and really any talented defensive lineman, it’s always an exciting piece."
Suh may have been drawn to Tampa by people such as Bowles, David and Vea, but now he wants to help those people go places they haven't been yet.
"I’ve been very, very blessed to have tunnel vision, focus and the drive to understand where I want to get and be able to bring people alongside with me at the same time," he said. "The one thing about this game is it’s the most team-oriented game you’ll ever play. You’ve got to have guys to play with. So, I’m excited with the team that we have here and seeing where we can get to."