Rams discover Ndamukong Suh can line up anywhere and produce up front
The pressure comes from all angles and positions along the Rams’ front, be it nose tackle, defensive tackle or end.
Ndamukong Suh is making an impact from all three spots.
After he signed a one-year, $14-million contract with the Rams last March, the veteran lineman said he would do whatever he was asked to help the Rams reach the Super Bowl.
Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Suh lined up at end in the fourth quarter and recorded one of the Rams’ four sacks in the final period of a 38-31 victory. He also mentored end John Franklin-Myers before the rookie end’s game-clinching strip sack, a play Suh finished by falling on the ball.
As the unbeaten Rams prepare for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle, they appear to be getting their money’s worth for Suh, who combines with reigning NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers to give the Rams perhaps the league’s most dynamic starting defensive front.
The Rams have only eight sacks, which ranks 22nd in the NFL, but they are among the league leaders in quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Donald, 27, signed a $135-million extension before the season. Brockers, 27, has a $10.75-million salary-cap number in the second season of a three-year extension he signed in 2016.
And then there is the 31-year-old Suh, who might have received more money elsewhere had he not opted to join the Rams.
Coach Sean McVay said Thursday that Suh has “been a little more” than he expected in terms of versatility.
Suh is not the only versatile member of a line that has produced 20 hits on quarterbacks.
In 2016, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips shifted tackles Donald and Brockers to various spots depending on the situation. Donald disrupted offenses and recorded 11 sacks. Brockers flourished when moved to the edge and finished with 4½ sacks.
Phillips said he studied all of Suh’s plays last season for the Miami Dolphins. Many were made from the end position.
“But we still had to work with him to make sure he could do those things we saw on film,” Philips said.
Apparently, he can.
“Ndamukong can go over either tackle, either guard or a center, so it gives us some versatility,” Phillips said. “Their [offensive line’s] protections have to change or we get one of those guys or two of those guys one-on-one. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Phillips has coached Hall of Fame players and many outstanding defensive lines during an NFL career that spans more than four decades.
But he said the Suh-Donald-Brockers combination is rare.
“I’ve had some great players but most of them, they played one position,” Phillips said, adding, “It’s not many players that you can move around like our guys.”
Moving together is the key, Suh said.
“It kind of flows when you look at the different pieces of getting pressure,” he said.
Said Donald: “You don’t want two guys going high and one guy’s leaving the middle open. So just communicate and understand how each other rushes, and play off it.”
Suh, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, played five seasons with the Detroit Lions and three with the Dolphins. He said he has prided himself on versatility since his rookie season.
“I’ll stand up in a linebacker position if I can,” he said, chuckling.
Franklin-Myers credited Suh for delivering applicable advice just before his big play against the Vikings. The rookie from Stephen F. Austin University rushed off the right edge and swatted the ball from the hand of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Suh said he offered counsel because he remembers his time as a rookie. First-year players, he said, can get “a one-track mind” because they are so focused on carrying out an assignment. It’s important “every now and then” to understand what an opponent is trying to do, and to take advantage of playing next to players such as Donald and Brockers, he said.
“’You’re going to have opportunities because you’ve got the big money guy next to you and you got Brock there,’” Suh said he told Franklin-Myers. “I’m just another guy just like you.
“ ‘Just go out there and play and find ways to make plays.’
“And that’s what he did.”
The Rams face a big test Sunday against elusive Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Suh said the Rams were up for the challenge.
“We’ve got to tighten up,” he said.
Suh will be there to clamp down.
From every angle.
Tight end Tyler Higbee (knee) and offensive guard Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice, but McVay said before the workout that the injuries were not expected to sideline the players Sunday. … Linebacker Mark Barron (Achilles) was limited.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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