Ndamukong Suh is trying.
He's trying to soften his image. He's trying to be a better teammate. He's trying to build his brand.
The signs are everyone, if one wants to see them.
▪ Over the weekend, the Dolphins defensive tackle starred in a funny, humanizing video with movie star Kevin Hart.
▪ He has twice sat in with teammates as they met with the media, videotaping their press availabilities. He even served as Cameron Wake’s hype man on Tuesday.
▪ And last week, the famously private Suh invited teammates to his house to watch basketball.
“We all got together and got to know him a little more on a different level,” said linebacker Koa Misi. “There's nothing to worry about Suh. He's a great guy, a good football player, and a good leader."
That wasn’t always the case in his first year in Miami.
There were the reports that Suh was unhappy with the coaching staff. That he, at times, went off-script during games. That he delivered a pointed speech to his teammates that some believed crossed the line.
On the field was no picnic either. The Dolphins went 6-10. The defense was worse statistically with Suh in 2015 than without him in 2014 (although most of that decline was beyond his control).
And for just the second time in his career, Suh missed the Pro Bowl.
Suh, like everyone else in the building, is hoping for a new beginning in 2016.
And it appears he’s started with himself.
His first step was a smart one: Get on the same page with his new head coach.
“I've had a lot of interaction with coach [Adam] Gase,” Suh said. “I have a lot of fun with him. At the same time, I'm learning a lot from him. I love competing against him. He gives me a hard time, I give him a hard time. It's a good mixture of him coaching me and being critical, as well as giving constructive criticism, at the same time, being competitive."
Gase knows the importance of having Suh as an ally.
So he hired Jim Washburn to do what Washburn did in Detroit: Get the most out of the star D-lineman.
Washburn was the Lions’ assistant defensive line coach in 2014, when Detroit had one of the league’s best defenses.
Washburn is now a senior defensive assistant in Miami, and has brought his Wide-9 scheme with him.
“I enjoy it,” Suh said. “I enjoy playing in that type of defense, that attack-style defense. It's suited me well. I've broken records with it. If you've had success with something, why not go back to it?"
Suh also had praise for new coordinator Vance Joseph, calling him a “great coach, great personality.”
Gase didn’t know a ton about Suh when he took the job other than what he saw on tape. In the five months since, he’s learned that the hype, at least in non-contact spring practice, is real.
“When you watch him practice out there, [you see] the way he does things in individual and the way he does things in team, how disruptive he is,” Gase said. “He's working a craft there and has it almost down to a science now where he understands how he needs to practice, what he needs to work on without pads.”
That’s nothing new. What is, however, is what appears to be a concerted effort on Suh’s behalf to change the way people perceive him. It won’t change overnight or perhaps even in a season -- it’s easy to be affable when you’re undefeated -- but the shift has not gone unnoticed.
Perhaps it’s the Kevin Hart effect.