Rams confident Ndamukong Suh will adjust to new system

Rams excited about addition of Ndamukong Suh (2:28)

Sean McVay talks about Los Angeles' offseason additions and the challenges he faces coaching a defense with so much personality. (2:28)

LOS ANGELES -- No defensive lineman has played more snaps than Ndamukong Suh over the past eight years. He compiled 6,773 of them from 2010 to 2017, and 5,413 of those -- nearly 80 percent -- have come while lined up as a left defensive tackle, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But that will hardly be the case with the Los Angeles Rams.

That's the spot occupied by Aaron Donald, who, if you haven't heard, is quite good. Instead, Suh will line up at nose tackle when the Rams are in their 3-4 base set, a spot where he has spent only about 3 percent of his career.

"Those are things that we talked about with Ndamukong," Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters from the owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week. "We wanted to make sure, 'Hey, do you feel good about the way we envision you?'"

Clearly, Suh does. He signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Rams earlier this week, choosing them over the New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans and potentially others, even though he'll basically be playing out of position while operating out of a 3-4 system for the first time in his career.

Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme plays similarly to a 4-3 set, the most notable difference being that the edge rushers operate out of a standing position as opposed to a three-point stance. It's still the one-gap penetrating front that Suh is accustomed to, situating defensive linemen between the opposing offensive linemen as opposed to lining up directly in front of them.

In base sets, Donald will remain the 3-technique, operating between the left tackle and the left guard. Michael Brockers will return to being situated to the outside of the opposing right tackle as the 5-technique, a position he switched to early in the 2017 season. And Suh will be situated between them as the nose tackle, between the opposing center and guard.

In slide protections, when a blitz is anticipated from the left outside linebacker -- something the Rams did frequently with Robert Quinn last season -- the Rams now can create a major dilemma for opposing offenses: Do they use their center to double-team Donald or Suh?

Neither answer is really the correct one.

"It provides a lot of unique challenges and opportunities for us to kind of free up those guys to get the one-on-one matchups," McVay said. "I think if there’s anything you can appreciate and respect so much about what Wade has done is he’s going to try to put great players in good spots to go make plays."

The Rams will have some flexibility when they are in sub packages, which, according to ESPN Stats & Information, they ran 70.1 percent of the time last season. In those instances, they could incorporate defensive end Dominique Easley, if he's healthy. And that could allow the Rams to move Suh and Donald around.

"When you get into some of your four-down fronts," McVay said, "you’ll still see [Suh] line up as a [3-technique], and you might see him line up as a shade on top of that center."

Donald and Suh have combined for 90.5 career sacks, the most by defensive tackle teammates since Dan Wilkinson and Vonnie Holliday combined for 97 on the 2006 Miami Dolphins, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau. While lined up as a tackle pre-snap, Donald and Suh have combined for 42 sacks over the past four years, which would be the most by current teammates, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Second most? Donald and Brockers with a combined 38.

Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ranks second only to Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack with 252 total pressures since 2015, according to Pro Football Focus.

Suh averaged 58 pressures and 532 pass-rush snaps from 2014 to 2016, but he generated only 43 pressures in 495 pass-rushing snaps in 2017.

Suh should get more pass-rushing snaps this season, and with Donald next to him, he will be double-teamed far less frequently, which means his pressures will theoretically pick back up. The Rams first touched base with Donald to make sure he was OK with them pursuing Suh, and McVay said, "the mutual respect that exists between those two players was imperative" to making the connection happen. The two have "talked amongst each other as this thing was going on," McVay added.

Suh has 44.5 career sacks as either a left defensive end or a left defensive tackle and only seven everywhere else, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Donald basically has split his career sacks as a left defensive tackle (13.5) and a right defensive tackle (12), while adding 6 as a nose tackle, 5.5 as a right defensive end and 2 as a left defensive end.

Donald provides the Rams with more versatility, but Suh will move around a lot now, too.