Sutter's specialty: reckless abandon Kick coverage ace gets chance at linebacker, too

September 04, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Eddie Sutter laughs as he recites his job description.

A Ravens linebacker beginning his fifth NFL season, Sutter has made a name for himself on special teams, a world inhabited by those not quite good enough to start at a position, yet fast and skilled enough to stop opponents when the game is played at its most reckless speed -- in punt and kickoff coverages.

"You have to have a sense of the ball, and you have to want to make the play. It's not a normal thing, to run down the field as fast as you can and run into people," Sutter said. "I don't know if you have to be crazy to do it, but I enjoy it. I don't know what that says about me."

His nickname -- "Scud," as in scud missile -- says something about Sutter, who grew up in the laid-back heartland of Peoria, Ill. When he wasn't playing sports year-round in school, Sutter often could be found at the local fishing hole.

But playing football kept him the happiest. The bloodlines dictated that pastime. His father, Ken, played center and linebacker at Illinois. Ken became an insurance salesman, partly to give himself time to watch his boys play ball.

Now, Dad watches his oldest son get a little crazy in one of pro football's most dangerous settings. Over the past three seasons, since he finally cracked the active roster in Cleveland after spending 1992 on the Browns' practice squad, Sutter has led the team in special teams tackles with 61.

He began the 1996 season with a measure of security. His reputation as a special teams force is intact, although Sutter, 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, would like more people to think of him as a linebacker. After backing up veterans like Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks in Cleveland, Sutter finds himself in that position in Baltimore behind rookie middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

This year could be different for Sutter. Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' first-year defensive coordinator, is using Sutter in his goal-line defense, a step Sutter had never been allowed to attempt. And Sutter is getting more practice at linebacker than he ever did under former coach Bill Belichick.

"A football team becomes better because guys step it up when they are needed, and we're preparing Eddie by getting him reps he's never had," Marvin Lewis said. "His role is important to us. He has to be ready to get the job done if we need him in there (at linebacker). His approach to special teams speaks for itself. He's in there with one of the best in the history of the NFL."

That would be safety Bennie Thompson, recognized as one of the league's top special teams players. Thompson said he still picks up pointers by observing Sutter.

"People call me the special teams captain. I consider Eddie the captain," Thompson said. "He watches more film than anybody on this team. When I watch special teams film, I always watch Eddie. He's one of the blue-collar guys on this team."

Establishing a place in the NFL has been a grind for Sutter, an undrafted free agent who was released by the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots before landing in Cleveland.

The grind actually began after he accepted a full scholarship in 1988 to Northwestern, a three-hour drive from Peoria. Those were the lean days that preceded the Wildcats' surprise run to the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth last year. Those were the days when Northwestern was a Big Ten doormat and one of the jokes of college football.

Sutter chose Northwestern partly because of its proximity to home and mainly because, while other schools who recruited him wanted him only as a punter, the Wildcats assured Sutter that he would play linebacker, too.

Sutter made the most of his chances. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and went on to finish second in school history with 441 tackles. He also averaged 40.2 yards per punt. That, along with his younger brother, Dan, helped ease the pain of all of those losses. Dan was a senior linebacker for the Wildcats during their Cinderella run last season.

"Throughout my college career, people would say losing builds character," said Sutter, who has a degree in organizational studies. "By the time my career ended, I was overflowing with character. There was a lot of adversity to overcome, and that's the way my NFL career started."

When his NFL career ends, Sutter would like to look back at some years in which he made his mark behind the line, not just by running down the field at full speed and slamming into ball carriers.

"There's a fine line between everybody at this level. It's all about getting an opportunity," Sutter said. "I've become known as a special teams player, which is fine. But once you get that reputation, some people think that's all you can do. Every year, I've gotten a little better at linebacker. I've just got to keep moving on."

Sunday's game

Ravens (1-0) vs. Steelers (0-1)

Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WLIF (101.9 FM), WJFK (1300 AM)

Line: Steelers by 4

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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