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Ndamukong Suh must live up to hype

3/11/2015



It's been seven years since the Miami Dolphins last made the playoffs. Chad Pennington was the quarterback in 2008, head coach Tony Sparano was in his first season and the Dolphins started a new NFL trend called the Wildcat formation.

The Dolphins haven't posted a winning season in a long time. But Wednesday's landmark signing of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is potentially the turning point Miami needs to end its streak.

There are certain responsibilities that come with signing a $114 million contract, which is a new NFL record for a defensive player. Suh is just one player on a 53-man roster, but, rest assured, he will get a lot of credit or blame for Miami's successes or failures during his tenure.

During Wednesday's news conference, Suh said the Dolphins are heading in the right direction. He is the type of game-changer that can take an 8-8 team potentially to 10-6.

"I'm excited about the pressure," Suh said. "I don't necessarily look at it as pressure. I look at it as doing something I'm built for."

The elite play on the field is already there. That is what earned Suh reportedly $60 million in guaranteed money. Since 2010, Suh leads all defensive tackles in sacks (36), disruptive plays (50 percent) and total snaps (4,107). He is one of the top free agents, in terms of pure talent, to hit the open market in a decade.

However, Suh must come of age in other ways in Miami. It starts with leadership.

Suh was not a vocal leader with the Detroit Lions, which he admitted Wednesday is an area in which he must evolve. Suh also has developed a label around the league as a "dirty" player. He has been fined or suspended in each of five seasons of his NFL career. Most recently, he was fined $70,000 for stepping on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Being a leader in Miami includes cleaning up his play -- especially when the Dolphins are making Suh their highest-paid player. Suh believes he was "misunderstood," which is a word he used twice during his news conference.

"I think for me being misunderstood is kind of related to people having their own opinion and kind of sticking to that rather than getting to know me like these gentlemen [Dolphins leadership] have," Suh said. "They've done their research and really seen the kind of person I am. Like [Dolphins owner] Mr. [Stephen] Ross spoke, people make mistakes and they grow and get better and become better human beings at the end of the day."

I had a good chat Wednesday with Suh's father, Michael, who said candidly his son "is not a monster" and people in South Florida will get to know the real Ndamukong Suh. He's done a lot of charity work in Detroit and for the University of Nebraska, his alma mater. But Suh's on-field incidents earned the most publicity over the years.

"It's just a label that some people just don't know how to let go," Michael Suh said. "Go meet him on the street, talk to him and see what kind of person he is."

The Dolphins already have several good pieces in place. They have three Pro Bowl players in Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes and Mike Pouncey and a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 4,045 yards.

As long as Suh lives up to his end of the bargain -- and past performance strongly suggests he will -- the Dolphins could be on the verge of building a strong franchise.