Suggs set to step in following false start

Projected to be starter in April, rookie linebacker gets first chance Sunday

December 12, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Terrell Suggs has another chance to establish himself as an NFL starter, and this time around, he and the Ravens coaches swear things will be different.

Suggs is set to start the first game of his pro career Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, 13 games later than he was projected to take over the position.

The Ravens penciled in Suggs as a starter shortly after he was selected with the 10th pick of the draft in April. While Suggs worked with the first team throughout the minicamps and some in training camp, he had more trouble making the switch from college defensive end to NFL strong-side linebacker than the team anticipated.

Specifically, Suggs struggled with his assignments in pass coverage and was hesitant in attacking the line of scrimmage on runs. Eventually, the Ravens were forced to rotate Adalius Thomas and Cornell Brown by series, while simplifying Suggs' role to rushing the passer as a defensive end during the regular season.

But with a season-ending injury to Thomas, Suggs is primed to grab the linebacker spot and hold onto it for years to come thanks to a change in mind-set and a gradual increase in responsibility during practices.

"I think I'm a lot better," Suggs said. "The main thing is confidence. [At first] I was like, `I'm a defensive end, and you're trying to get me to drop back and cover these receivers?' But now I've got my confidence up. Pete [Boulware] did it, so I'm trying to do that, too."

Suggs is still expected to rotate in base defense situations with Brown - one of the Ravens' best run-stoppers - but his overall number of snaps could nearly double.

He is coming off a performance in which he sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna twice in the Ravens' 31-13 win Sunday. A day later, Suggs was on a plane back to Arizona, where he faced charges of felony aggravated assault stemming from a fight after a basketball game last March.

Suggs, though, vowed that will not be a distraction and expressed more disappointment that his first start did not come at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The only bad thing about it is we're not in Baltimore," Suggs said. "I don't get to run out and hear my name called with the Raven-eye [SmartVision graphic] thing."

Coaches feel he can better handle being an every-down player after nearly a year of apprenticeship.

"He's been preparing all year for this," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

"It's one of those things we've worked at," linebackers coach Mike Singletary added. "It's not like he doesn't know what we are asking him to do. He's had a chance to work on it when he's on the regular defense [in practice]. He's ready. It's not like, `Do you think he can do it?' He'll do a great job."

The Ravens will need him to. In Thomas, the Ravens lose a player that had four sacks, 34 tackles, eight defended passes (second among the linebackers) and a flare for the dramatic play.

"Adalius left some really big shoes to fill," Suggs said. "Adalius played on every down, on special teams. I've just got to go out there and carry the weight. It's time for me to jump in there and help my team win in more ways than just third down."

It is what Suggs has done in passing situations that gives the Ravens confidence that he can handle more responsibility. Suggs leads all rookies with a team-high 10 sacks, has forced four fumbles and recovered two.

He credited retired end Michael McCrary for teaching him a number of pass-rushing techniques that have paid off. Suggs has four sacks over his past three games, and increasingly, linemen are becoming more off balance while trying to block Suggs.

"He's raw," McCrary said of Suggs. "He's got all the ability to be one of the top rushers, if not the top rusher, in the league, but he's like an infant. He'll run right out there after I show him a move and try the move out. I'm just trying to get him to focus on the motto of sack him or get pressure, one or the other. And he's got to be consistent. The moves have to be deliberate."

NOTES: The Ravens released quarterback Ray Lucas and have not yet put Thomas on injured reserved. Long snapper Mike Solwold, promoted from the practice squad, replaced Lucas on the active roster. The Ravens are expected to place Thomas on injured reserve next week, a move that will allow the team to add another player to the active roster. ... The Ravens reported no changes to their injury report. Raiders center Barret Robbins (knee) and guard Mo Collins (knee) are now out for the game.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (8-5) vs. Oakland Raiders (3-10)

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 6 1/2

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