DAVIE, Fla. — Ndamukong Suh jokingly says he hopes the Miami Dolphins let him start this year.
In truth, they expect him to spend little time on the sideline.
The Dolphins have five defensive tackles, but only one has a $114 million contract. Coach Joe Philbin wants to make the most of the team’s investment in Suh, beginning with the season opener on Sunday at the Washington Redskins.
“When you study his background, it’s impressive the amount of snaps he has played,” Philbin said. “He seems to have that ability to remain charged up through the course of a game. We’ve got to be smart, but we’d certainly love to have him on the field as much as we can.”
Suh was a three-time All-Pro with the Detroit Lions in part because he was so dependable. He played 875 snaps last year, which ranked second at the position to the 916 played by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Dontari Poe.
“Ndamukong is a guy that is rare in the sense that can play those kind of plays,” Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “Most guys don’t have the conditioning, the athleticism, the mental toughness to play that many snaps at that demanding of a position.”
Suh tied for fifth in snaps among defensive tackles in 2013, and ranked second in 2012. He was first with exactly 1,000 as a rookie in 2010.
During Suh’s five years with the Lions, he missed only two games.
“That’s what my offseason workouts are all about,” he said. “It’s important for me to be on the field all the time and always be available. I understood that as a young kid, whether it was basketball, football, track. You always want to be available. That’s a huge thing I pride myself on.”
The NFL is about more than just showing up. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Suh dominates against both the run and the pass, which is what makes him an every-down tackle, a rarity in today’s game.
Last year, when Suh played 82 percent of the snaps, he was the best player on the league’s top-ranked defense. He had 8 1/2 sacks, 20 quarterback hurries and 21 tackles for a loss.
And, occasionally, he watched from the bench.
“I’m definitely aware of myself, and I’ll pull myself out of the game if I’m not playing at a very high level,” he said. “I definitely don’t have too much pride to do that. You want to be smart. I want to play this game for a long time, and you want to be able to stay healthy.”
Defensive line depth was a strength in Philbin’s previous three seasons, and he rotated tackles frequently. The Dolphins are still deep up front, with a cast that includes Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Earl Mitchell and second-round draft pick Jordan Phillips.
Suh will be the anchor.
“I’ll hopefully be fortunate enough to be a starter,” he said, managing a poker face. “I think I am in a good space to where I’ll have a majority of the snaps.”
The highest-paid defensive player wants to earn his keep.
“We will pick and choose when we want to give him some breaks,” Coyle said, “but you want the Big Chief in there when the game is on the line.”
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