Jay Cutler has shared a field with Ndamukong Suh more than 10 times in his career, but Tuesday might have been the first time he didn’t fear for his safety.
Suh and Cutler, now teammates in Miami, were rivals for the better part of the decade. They played in the same division — Suh for the Lions, Cutler for the Bears — and faced each other twice annually.
And almost every time., Suh delivered a wince-inducing hit, once ripping Cutler’s helmet clear off his head.
Suh even had to pay a $15,000 fine for a forearm shove he delivered to Cutler’s head.
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“I’m happy he’s on my team,” Cutler conceded Tuesday, after his first practice as a member of the Miami Dolphins.
“He texted me whenever we got [the deal] done,” he added. “... To have a guy like that on your side is always good.”
The feeling is mutual.
Yes, Suh punished Cutler enough over the years to convince a lesser man to change careers. Suh has sacked Cutler six times, the most of any quarterback in his career.
But Cutler always shook them off and kept playing, so Suh has “the ultimate respect” for his longtime foe.
“I don’t like any quarterbacks, but he was one guy that definitely I had a respect for because he took hits and never cried, never complained and just got up and went and played the next play,” Suh said.
“He’s definitely a tough guy,” Suh added. “He always makes sure he wants to be out there the next week.”
Cutler was dynamite in his Dolphins practice debut Tuesday, showing no rust from an eight-month layoff. Even after shoulder surgery, Cutler’s right arm was as live as ever. He showed dexterity in the pocket, nimbly avoiding pass rushers when protection broke down.
And he had a firm grasp of Adam Gase’s offense, splitting first-string reps with Matt Moore during 11-on-11 drills.
“I think he slung it pretty well,” said receiver Jarvis Landry. “... We welcomed him with open arms.”
Open arms — no quarterback ever wants to see that from Suh.
But the eighth-year defensive tackle must know that his best chance to finally make a deep playoff run is for Cutler to play like he did with Gase in Chicago two years ago.
“I think he’s a great quarterback,” Suh said. “Obviously I’ve played against him many, many times. Actually got my first sack against him. I’m looking forward to it, going against him in practice and whatnot, but good dude.”
Cutler isn’t easy to bring down, Suh added, and he makes opposing defenses earn any sack.
But Suh plays to (and occasionally beyond) the whistle as well; Dolphins coaches rave about how he gets downfield to make plays that other defensive linemen would give up on.
That was the case last Thursday, when he chased Ryan Tannehill to the sidelines on the play in which Tannehill re-injured his left ACL, likely ending his season.
The news that Tannehill was seriously hurt “was a punch in the gut,” Gase said.
Added Landry: “It sucks and it's very unfortunate."
Here’s a major reason why: Most teams that lose their quarterback at any point — let alone before a single preseason snap — are doomed to a lost year.
But Cutler’s signing might save the Dolphins’ season, even if Suh prefers to see things differently.
“I never would think our season was over,” Suh said. “One, because we haven’t even started it. That’s how you have to, in my eyes, look at it.
“Injuries are going to happen at all levels,” he continued. “You never want it to happen at any particular level, especially the quarterback position, but guys gotta be able to step up and be able to make plays for us to get into our season.”