SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
LeBron James makes players around him better.
But in a sport with 11 on the field instead of five, can the NFL’s best defensive tackle raise the performance of his defensive teammates?
Dolphins players believe Ndamukong Suh will do just that.
“Just his presence alone, the fact the offense has to focus on him is going to free everybody else up and make everybody else better around him,” Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins said last week.
As safety Reshad Jones put it: “Hopefully it will make everybody's job a lot easier when you have a dominant force like that in the middle. It makes the linebackers able to flow and run and make plays. It should be a lot easier for guys.”
So how realistic is it to expect Suh to actually boost the performance of teammates? A few points to consider:
### Detroit finished second in total defense last season, but in Suh’s first four seasons, the Lions’ defense ranked 21st (2010), 23rd, 13th and 16th. That means Detroit's defense was average to below average in three of his five seasons --- certainly not a reflection on Suh but an indication that Suh cannot mask a team's glaring defensive weaknesses.
### As far as run defense, Detroit was first last season and sixth in 2013. But in Suh’s first three seasons, the Lions were 24th, 23rd and 16th against the run.
So is Suh’s presence enough to raise Miami from 24th against the run in 2014 to top five in 2015?
“I don’t know if a top five run defense is within their grasp,” ESPN.com analyst and former Browns scout Matt Williamson said. “He will vastly improve it, so top 10 is realistic. He’s not an A plus run defender and he’s a better pass rusher than run defender, though he’s capable of being very good against the run. Last year, Detroit changed their scheme and he was better against the run. His presence will demand double teams and free up linebackers.”
### It’s notable that three current or former Lions front-seven players (George Johnson, Jason Jones, Justin Durant) were more productive playing with Suh than they were playing elsewhere, which is an encouraging sign for Miami.
Johnson, who didn’t have a sack in 11 previous career games for Minnesota and Tampa, had six for Detroit in 2014 without starting a game. The attention Suh commands was obviously a factor in that. Stephen Tulloch, a very good inside linebacker, was similarly productive with Tennessee and Detroit.
Three productive front seven defenders --- DeAndre Levy, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley --- have played only with Detroit (Fairley recently joined the Rams) --- so it’s difficult to assess whether Suh helped make them substantially better than they would have been elsewhere.
### Since he entered the league in 2010, Suh leads all defensive tackles in sacks (36), disrupted dropbacks, total snaps and is third in tackles. So is Suh worth the largest contract ever for a non quarterback (six years, $114 million)?
“He makes a great impact on the game [but] to give that much money to somebody, I want him to touch the ball,” former Dolphins and Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said. “In today’s game, you have to score points. [But] I'm not negative toward it. He's the best in the league. The other 10 players will be that much better around him. Every team that lines up against the Dolphins must work on the scheme all week long on how they’re going to block him. Every team will have a different game plan against Miami than what they normally have.”
But former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly wonders: “How can we stay competitive paying a defensive tackle that much money? I’m not sure Earl Mitchell is a star [next to him]. Their defensive ends are undersized and that remains a problem. Linebacker remains a problem outside of Koa Misi. There are a lot more parts that just him.”
Williamson frames it this way: “You gain Suh but you also lost Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. It wasn’t like they’re nobodies. Yes, you are a lot better at defensive tackle and Tom Brady hates interior pressure.
“Is he worth that money, a $26 million cap hit next year? Nobody is worth that money [except] maybe J.J. Watt. In the end, they are going to say this is a restrictive contract.”
### The Dolphins are neither surprised nor angry with Suh for skipping much of the offseason program. Players, generally, aren’t either, though one questioned the wisdom of Suh’s decision to skip part of the on-field installation of the defense, considering he’s new here.
Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum told WMEN-640’s Sid Rosenberg last week that “in a cap system players who take up a big part of your cap have to do more than just play well…. I challenged Ndamukong.” Tannenbaum wants him to help the team’s young players.
“We have a lot of young players not only on the defensive line, but on our team,” Tannenbaum said. “If we were sitting here in 10 years and Jordan Phillips is talking about hopefully the career he’s having, I’d love for him to say that in his formative years Ndamukong Suh impacted him.”
### Heat guard Goran Dragic, an impending free agent, feels strongly that the Heat must play faster and has been assured that’s a key part of the Pat Riley/Erik Spoelstra master plan, according to an an associate.
We’re told Dragic very much likes Spoelstra and Riley and nothing to this point has changed regarding the Heat’s status as front-runners to keep him. The Lakers, Knicks, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Sacramento are all expected to have interest
### We hear the Marlins gave Dan Jennings a raise when he decided to move from the GM job to the manager's job. So that means they are, in fact, paying three managers.
The Marlins still must pay Mike Redmond nearly $3 million --- more than they’re paying five of their starting position players this season. The Marlins also also are paying close to $2 million to Ozzie Guillen this season.
Six teams already have reached out to Redmond about potential employment (non-managing jobs), but Redmond is laying low and spending time with his family in Spokane.
### Three scouts all prefaced their comments about Jennings last week but saying how much they like and respect him. “He’s very convincing,” one National League scout said. “He could sell ice to Eskimos.”
But two mentioned how incredulous some people in baseball are about appointing a manager with no on-field experience beyond high school.
“That’s a slap in the face of every big league manager,” one scout said. “That’s ridiculous. He’s going to be second guessed every night.”
One of the scouts said that experienced managers could get away with doing what Jennings did Tuesday --- leaving in lefty Mike Dunn to pitch to Arizona’s AJ Pollock, whose two-run homer gave Arizona the win, instead of going to right-hander Bryan Morris.
“But Jennings going to be killed [publicly] for stuff like that,” even though Dunn has been far better against right-handed hitters than Morris has been this season.
Jennings might have more job security than any Marlins manager since Jack McKeon, because Jeffrey Loria really likes him and can return Jennings to the GM job if this doesn’t work out.
When baseball people criticize Loria in private conversations, Jennings has consistently defended Loria and said Loria is misunderstood, according to an executive with another team. And Loria values that unwavering loyalty and Jennings’ eye for talent.
### Even with his team losing, Jennings opted for positive reinforcement instead of chewing out his players (at least entering the weekend).
“He wants to create an atmosphere we’ve never had,” reliever Steve Cishek said. “He’s putting speakers in the clubhouse [to play music]. He put in this machine to help us with our [physical] recovery.”
### The Marlins are puzzled how Mat Latos, one of only five pitchers to make at least 15 starts and produce an ERA of 3.50 each of the past five seasons, could be struggling like this (6.12 ERA). They believe knee inflammation is contributing to the ineffectiveness; he was placed on the disabled list Saturday.
“It’s heartbreaking to be going through this,” Latos said. "Mechanically, I’m fine. My velocity is there. I’m tired of embarrassing myself.”
### According to a UM football source, the Hurricanes football staff privately wants a new stadium just as much as the administration does, believing Sun Life is too big and doesn’t create enough of a homefield advantage.
UM was happy how Friday's meeting went with the Beckham group but there's no clarity on UM's potential participation in a joint stadium project.
Whether UM moves forward would depend partly on Stephen Ross' willingness to negotiate a buyout with the university. UM has 17 years left on its Sun Life lease.
Dolphins management declined to say Friday whether it would be willing to give UM a buyout. But the Dolphins believe they have treated UM well and aren't pleased that the Hurricanes are interested in bolting.
### If you haven't read it and are interested in such things, please see the last three posts for my three-part series on the biggest busts in South Florida sports history... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz