Ravens' Suggs is moving toward more playing time

Plan is for linebacker to be part of base defense

October 10, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Mike Nolan is not one for tipping his hand, so for the Ravens' defensive coordinator to offer the following information regarding his plan for linebacker Terrell Suggs qualifies as a surprise.

"Maybe," said Nolan of a possible increase in playing time for Suggs on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, "This week is the week. At some point, you'll see him in the base [package]."

Through the first four games, Suggs has been used as a situational pass-rushing end. In his limited role, he leads the team with four sacks and also recorded a key interception in the Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers while playing about 35 percent of the snaps.

But the time is fast approaching for Suggs to assert himself as an every-down linebacker, the position the Ravens envisioned when they made him the draft's 10th overall pick. Adalius Thomas and Cornell Brown will likely continue to rotate in the Ravens' base defense, but Suggs should get in on select plays with the starters on third downs in the coming weeks.

"We're practicing him in [base defense] as well," Nolan said. "In time, that will happen, but it's got to be the right time. Each week in the game plan, we're prepared for that. "But right now, his production has come on third down."

Suggs tied an NFL record with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Santana Dotson, recording a sack in each of his first four games. The production has not exactly come in the most impressive of ways, but the Ravens are encouraged.

Two of the sacks were due mostly to coverage downfield, one was because fellow rusher Peter Boulware forced the quarterback to his side, and the other came when he used his speed to get past the offensive tackle.

After the Chargers game, Suggs sat as his locker and refused credit for any of his sacks but has since felt he is more deserving than he originally thought.

"Everything you get you deserve because you work hard to get it," Suggs said. "But when you have help getting it ... I have a lot of help getting sacks. With AD [Thomas] and [Tony] Weaver in the middle and Pete on the other end, then Ray Lewis sitting in the middle, you account for three other guys before me."

But at the rate Suggs is going, coaches will not have much choice but to account for Suggs. "They are using him very judiciously," Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. "I know that he's a situational player there that has four sacks and an interception already. So when he has had his chance to get on the field, he's played very well."

Suggs returns to the stadium where he recorded many of his NCAA single-season record 24 sacks with Arizona State last season. Back then, his mission was clear - get after the quarterback and worry about little else.

Now Suggs realizes the key to getting on the field in the earlier downs.

"I definitely have to know my coverages better and get better in my [pass] drops," Suggs said. "That's the No. 1 thing that's keeping me off on first and second downs. And the play of AD and Cornell, they are playing really solid right now. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But when the time is called to play more downs, I will do so."

With Thomas and Brown manning the position well enough (the two have combined for 12 tackles and four defended passes), Suggs has more of a luxury than did Boulware, who made a similar switch when he arrived as a first-round pick to the Ravens in 1997 and was an immediate starter.

"It's one of the toughest things I ever did," Boulware said. "I was just like Terrell in college. All I did was rush. I never dropped. The transition from college to NFL is tough enough, but to make the transition from college to the NFL to another position, that's a double dose and is extra hard. It's going to take time for him to get it, but he's doing a good enough job now just focusing on the pass."

Boulware's lone sack this season, in the opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, was taken away by the NFL and ruled a scramble by quarterback Tommy Maddox.

This is the first time in Boulware's seven-year career that he has not had a sack in his first four games.

The double-teams are still present for Boulware.

"I think I can do a lot better," Boulware said. "I think [Suggs] is doing a good job getting there. I'd like to put on a lot more pressure. It will come, and we'll start playing off each other. It's coming down the road."

Said Nolan: "Peter always gets attention. People are still waiting on Suggs to prove himself. As a rookie, it's really a season-long thing."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (2-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-4)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

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