FAB 2. Suh’s Impact On Vea And White
One of the ways former Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy showed good leadership was his willingness to stay after practice and help younger defensive linemen work on their craft. McCoy would impart the dos and don’ts he had learned in his trial-by-fire baptism in the NFL during his first years in Tampa Bay where there wasn’t a veteran defensive lineman there to show him the ropes.
Outside of the occasional offseason workout with Bucs legend Warren Sapp, McCoy had to lean on the teachings of defensive line coaches Todd Wash, Randy Melvin and Joe Cullen – none of who played in the league – as his only source of learning how to play defensive line in the NFL.
Assistant coaches are great, and their job is to teach players the techniques, but every assistant coach worth his salt loves to have a veteran in the room to help model what to do and how to do it to the young players.
New Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is not an ideal role model in many ways.
As one of the league’s dirtiest players, there is plenty of “what not to do” about Suh’s game. There have been times where his motor has run hot and cold, and where he has drawn an unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that has resulted in a steep fine. There are times when Suh needs to be reined in because he sometimes goes rogue and strays from the play calls.
It may take the strong-willed personalities of Bruce Arians, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, a Bill Parcells disciple, to keep Suh in line at times. The team is betting that will happen.
Suh may not stay after practice to help second-year defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2018, refine his technique like McCoy would. Suh might not pull aside rookie middle linebacker Devin White, this year’s first-round pick, and impart nine years of wisdom like McCoy would.
But Suh will be good for Vea and White in other ways.
When he was a Pro Bowl middle linebacker for the Bucs, Hardy Nickerson was a bully on the field and intimidating off it. He walked around One Buccaneer Place with an edge about him and he played with a nasty demeanor on the field that helped a young Derrick Brooks play more ruthlessly, and fostered and emboldened the swagger and viciousness that a young Warren Sapp already had within him.
When Ronde Barber was a rookie, he told me he was intimidated of him that first year because of Nickerson’s surliness. Nickerson, who arrived in 1993 from a playoff team in Pittsburgh in 1992, brought the edge and swagger that helped transformed the Yuccaneers into the Buccaneers.
Ask Brooks, ask Sapp, ask Barber and ask John Lynch and they will credit Nickerson for the beginning of Tampa Bay’s transformation. Nickerson’s leadership gave the Bucs defense – and the whole team itself – the attitude adjustment it desperately needed.
Nickerson couldn’t do it alone, which is why it took several years for Lynch, Brooks and Sapp to develop into playmakers – and for the arrival of head coach Tony Dungy – for the Bucs to finally turn the corner at the end of the 1996 season ahead of a 10-6 playoff year in ’97.
Suh is a defensive tackle, and not the leader of the defense like Nickerson was as the team’s middle linebacker back in the 1990s. But the attitude adjustment Suh is expected to bring will have its benefits.
Vea will be in good hands learning from a true veteran nose tackle in Beau Allen, while White will learn a ton from veteran linebacker Lavonte David, who has actually been the Bucs’ best defensive player since arriving as a second-round pick in 2012.
It’s safe to suggest that Suh plays the game more violently than McCoy – not that McCoy was finesse and not physical enough. I don’t think that was the case at all. But it’s pretty apparent that Suh and McCoy have different styles of play.
McCoy, an avid superhero fan, loves Batman, who tried his best to capture – but not kill – the bad guys in comic books and movies. I’m not sure if Suh reads comics or watches Marvel movies, but if he did, his favorite character might be The Punisher for obvious reasons.
McCoy admitted that his favorite movie is Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I don’t know what Suh’s favorite movie is, but if he said Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator, I wouldn’t be surprised.
You get the drift.
It took general manager Jason Licht having a one-on-one “chat” with Vea last year to light a fire and bring out the island warrior in his game down the stretch. Suh plays like an island warrior and the hope is that some of Suh’s nastiness can rub off on Vea’s game – minus the cheap shot penalties, of course.
For White, whose personality I’ve said seems to be a median between Brooks’ confidence and gravitas and Sapp’s swagger and attitude, and the team hopes that White feeds off Suh’s on-field aggression the way that Sapp, Brooks and other Bucs fed off Nickerson’s similar style.
Replacing McCoy with Suh wasn’t just about saving a few million dollars or getting a player that is just as good of a pass rusher as McCoy, but a better run defender. The Bucs wanted to pair Vea and White with an edgy, aggressive, no-nonsense defensive tackle like Suh at this early stage of their careers because this will be their Tampa Bay defense for the next decade to come.