For much of his career, Ndamukong Suh has lined up as a three-technique tackle in 4-3 defensive fronts.
Sure, Suh has moved around on the line to create better pass-rushing matchups in both Detroit and Miami. But he’s become a household name in large part because of his strength and technique lining up between the guard and tackle.
Los Angeles, however, doesn’t run a 4-3 under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — a noted 3-4 guru. And even if it did, the club has reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who has been a mainstay at the position for the franchise since his rookie year of 2014.
So where does that leave Suh? According to head coach Sean McVay, the newest Ram is slated to play nose tackle — or one-technique — in Los Angeles’ base defense. That will put Suh between Donald and defensive lineman Michael Brockers, who plays five-technique for L.A.
“Ndamukong is going to go into it in our base defense and he’s going to play the nose, actually,” McVay said during the coaches breakfast at the league meetings in Orlando on Tuesday. “But I think when you get into some of your four-down fronts, you’ll still see him line up as a three, you might see him line up as a shade on top of that center. Aaron Donald will still play a three-technique in our base defensive structures that we play in on first and second downs.”
“Again we wanted to make sure [we asked], 'OK, do you feel good about the way we envision you?'” McVay continued, referring to the process of meeting with Suh. “Certainly that’s something where it’s always, we adapt and adjust as we get more familiar with you and how we can accentuate your skillsets.”
And with Suh playing next to Donald, the Rams should have a lot of flexibility in the way they attack the interior of an offense — particularly on passing downs.
“I do know this, when you look at Ndamukong and Aaron side by side, that always — just from an offensive coaching standpoint — that always provides a unique challenge as far as when we’re in our six-man protection, if it’s a slide protection, do we want to turn the center to [Donald], do we want to turn it to [Suh],” McVay said. “But it provides a lot of unique challenges and opportunities to kind of free up those guys to get the one-on-one matchups.”
And Phillips has more than proven how well he can create those one-on-one matchups with his scheme. The defensive coordinator said many times during the 2017 season that was his goal for Donald, who ended up tying a career high with 11.0 sacks in just 14 games. With interior defenders as talented as Donald, Suh, and Brockers, the Rams should be in great shape on their defensive line.
“I think if there’s anything that you can appreciate and respect so much about what Wade’s done," McVay said, "he’s going to try and put great players in good spots to go make plays."