A tip when it comes to Ndamukong Suh: Don't allow yourself to be surprised.
The Miami Herald's Adam Beasley reported Sunday, following the Dolphins upset loss in Jacksonville, that Suh "strayed from [defensive coordinator] Kevin Coyle’s script" and "freelanced at times Sunday, creating confusion on the defense."
If true, Suh's behavior is disruptive, bordering on insubordinate—especially in light of the $114 million contract Miami handed Suh this off-season to become the centerpiece of its defense. (Coach Joe Philbin denied the claim during his Monday press conference; the Herald stood by its report.)
It's also not all that outlandish a claim considering what Suh has shown us in five-plus NFL seasons. When he is locked in and motivated, he can be as dominant as any defender in the league short of J.J. Watt. When he's not, well, it becomes a lot easier to notice his aloof, enigmatic personality, both on and off the field.
His former teammates in Detroit consistently had Suh's back whenever criticism inevitably surfaced, be it regarding Suh's play or his behavior. When Suh hit free agency this off-season, several Lions spoke about how much they wanted him back and how critical he was to their defense. (At least, at first—once Suh signed in Miami, their tone changed to downplay Suh's departure.)
They often had to answer for Suh in the press because he preferred not to do so himself. He would pass on interview sessions, skipped OTAs and generally operated on his own schedule.
Had he been a lesser talent, the Lions may have taken more issue. Since he claimed Defensive Rookie of the Year, four Pro Bowl invites and three All-Pro nods between 2010-14, the organization was more willing to cut him some slack.
Miami surely knew what it was paying for back in March. A couple months later, after Suh sat out the first set of team workouts, coach Joe Philbin stressed, "This is a voluntary offseason program"—all veteran players, not just Suh, had the right to skip. The local media and Dolphins fan base quickly toed the same company line most in Detroit had for many years: So long as Suh shows up on Sunday ...
And that's fine. Such an arrangement would not work for every player, but it seems to serve Suh well. Expect him when it counts; let him do his own thing otherwise.
His track record indicates that Sunday's letdown in Jacksonville will be a blip on the radar soon, at least from a personal level. Suh has not near lived up to his lofty free-agent price tag, but just once last season did he go three straight games without a sack. The plays will come. Unless he completely shuts down with a new contract under his belt, Suh is far too talented for them not to.
There is that stormy possibility, of course—that Suh maxed out his effort level just before hitting free agency and now coasts, Albert Haynesworth-style. The oft-criticized Philbin also may have a spotlight shined even brighter on his leadership style, should Suh continue to go rogue.
So far, though, this is nothing that far out of the ordinary. The two unproductive games from he and the entire Miami line are problematic, to be sure, but not necessarily emblematic of a Dolphins team unprepared for playoff content.
Trying to analyze Suh within the context of Random Generic Player is pointless. Whether it's fair or not to the rest of his teammates, Suh has always been permitted a little leeway. He has been quick to point out, too, that he almost never misses mandatory practices (for injuries or other factors) and has played in all but two games during his career—both on suspension for stomping Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Slumps like the one he's battling to start 2015 have come and gone. The Dolphins will be careful not to let Sunday's situation, whatever it was, spiral into more than that.
Until it does, chalk this up to typical Suh. No surprises here.