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Todd Bowles’ persistence to land Ndamukong Suh pays off for Bucs

The Bucs’ defensive coordinator failed in his attempt to lure Suh to the Jets last year.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht talk during organized team activities on Tuesday. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Bucs coach Bruce Arians, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht talk during organized team activities on Tuesday. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published Jun. 4, 2019
Updated Jun. 4, 2019

TAMPA — Todd Bowles knows how to apply pressure. It’s one of his hallmarks as a defensive coordinator.

He was relentless in his pursuit of Ndamukong Suh last year as head coach of the New York Jets. But like any good competitor, he learned from his defeat, and given a second chance to apply a recruiting blitz on the free agent defensive tackle, Bowles got his man.

“We talked a year ago. Very interested in him at the time," Bowles said of Suh, who chose the Rams over the Jets. "It didn’t work out, obviously, but we developed a good rapport, talking on the phone and understanding each other, what I was looking for, what he was looking for.

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“So this time around when I called him, it was kind of funny, so it kind of fell back to the same conversation. There was a lot of comfortability between us two and everything worked out.”

Unapologetically wearing No. 93, Suh took his three-point stance in the middle of the Bucs defense during the first day of mandatory minicamp. About the same time, Gerald McCoy walked out of the tunnel at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., laughed heartily, spread his arms and declared, “I’m home!’’

When you get right down to it, the loudest voice in the room speaking up for Suh may have been Bowles, who had already done a thorough evaluation about how he would fit into his 3-4 defensive scheme that he will deploy with the Bucs.

How much did Bucs coach Bruce Arians rely on Bowles to know Suh would be a better fit in his defense than McCoy, who signed a one-year, $8-million contract with the Panthers?

“Oh, a bunch," Arians said. “I trust Todd’s evaluation as much as anybody’s. So that was a big part of it.”

Of course, a few months ago, while Arians was questioning McCoy’s enthusiasm for the game, Suh was just trying to decide whether he wanted to retire or resume his career.

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He helped the Los Angeles Rams to an NFC Championship before losing to the Patriots 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII. He had 4.5 sacks playing next to the Aaron Donald, who had 20.5. But Suh excelled in the postseason for the Rams with 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

But at 32, having earned more than $138-million in nine seasons, Suh first had to decide whether he wanted to return for a 10th NFL season and join his third different team in three years.

“I think it’s understanding what my family wanted to do,’’ Suh said. “What I wanted to do and continue playing football. It was the first piece and figuring that piece out.’’

But Bowles says he has no reason to question Suh’s enthusiasm for playing.

“I don’t question his motivation," Bowles said. “When I talked to him, none of that came up. I watched the film. I know the man. I know the player. So I’m happy with him.

“He’s a good player. We’re trying to get players on this team. Obviously, he’s a good player. He’s got the track record to prove it and he hasn’t slowed down yet.’’

Indeed, he does. In fact, his resume is the primary reason the Bucs never wavered when considering whether Suh would wear McCoy’s No. 93, a number he had at Nebraska and with the Dolphins and Rams. Suh has been to five Pro Bowls, has been a an Associated Press first-team All-Pro selection three times, compiled 56 career sacks, 166 quarterback hits and 142 starts in 142 games played.

But that resume also includes suspensions for three games for personal fouls and more than $600,000 in fines.

“I don’t know about crossing the lines,” Bowles said. “I think he’s an aggressive player and he plays tough football. That’s the way you want to play. Obviously, we want to play the game the right way. We don’t want any of that going on and I think he’ll do that."

Related: MORE BUCS: Evan Smith understands Ndamukong Suh's fire

The Bucs practiced in their indoor facility Tuesday in front of several hundred suite holders and club members.

There was the expected crush of reporters and television cameras mashed in the corner of one of the end zones just to watch Suh go through the most basic defensive line drills. Fans tried to get a chant going of “S-u-u-u-u-u-h!’’

“It’s exciting times,’’ defensive tackle Beau Allen said afterward. “We’re happy to have him in the building. … I’m happy to get to know him personally, instead of just seeing him on film.’’

Suh offers more versatility in Bowles scheme than McCoy did. He can play any of three positions on the defensive line.

“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," Suh said. "I think it’s important for me as a professional (to) continue to grow and evolve in (those) aspects."

Suh makes no secret that the primary reason for him choosing to sign with Tampa Bay is Bowles, whose creative pressure packages are not only aimed at producing quarterback sacks but also forcing the offense to play faster than it wants to. This leads to mistakes, bad decisions by the quarterback, broken routes by receivers, and if not sacks, hopefully turnovers.

"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.’’

Arians has said he wants to see the intensity on Suh’s face, sans the penalties, that he used to become one of the more feared defensive tackles in the league.

“He’s got a football face, to me,’’ Bowles said. “So he’s always had a football face so I don’t have that problem.’’

Suh has two more days to begin learning the defensive terminology, then seven weeks to digest the playbook in time for training camp. When he returns, the Bucs expect Suh to turn up the intensity of Bowles defense a few degrees.

“There ain’t enough fire in the world,’’ Arians said. “Burn some guys around you.’’

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.

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