Suggs named NFL's top defensive rookie

Raven wins AP award despite his limited role

December 31, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Terrell Suggs earned the Associated Press' NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award on quality rather than quantity.

Suggs, who played on less than half of the Ravens' defensive snaps, received 23 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL as a result of his impact as a pass rush specialist.

The 10th pick overall in the draft, Suggs led the NFL's third-ranked defense in four categories: sacks (12), quarterback hits (24), forced fumbles (six) and fumbles recovered (four). His sack total set a team rookie record previously held by Peter Boulware, the only other Raven to win this defensive award.

"Every rookie in the NFL knows it's hard to come into the league and perform good enough to get an award for it," said Suggs, who set the NCAA record with 24 sacks last season. "I'm kind of overwhelmed with the whole thing. I'm just taking it in right now. It's a great thing."

Once envisioned as an every-down player, Suggs struggled in his transition from a defensive end at Arizona State to an NFL outside linebacker. He was relegated to passing situations, playing in only 410 of 1,048 defensive snaps. Still, he averaged hitting the quarterback once every 17 plays.

When asked about his potential as a full-time player, Suggs said, "It's something to look forward to. It's like, `If he only played third down and won it, just imagine what happens when he plays every down and really becomes a linebacker. Then it's going to be something to see.' Until then, it's stay tuned."

Suggs, 21, started his first game Sunday, when Boulware was sidelined with a right knee sprain. With Boulware's status uncertain, Suggs may have to fill in at outside linebacker again in Saturday's wild-card game against the Tennessee Titans.

"It's been fun to watch his maturation, it really has," coach Brian Billick said. "Particularly the last two weeks, what he's had to do with Peter's situation. He's had to step his game up, and he has."

The start of his NFL career was far from award-winning. Suggs was a two-day holdout in training camp before agreeing to a five-year, $10.09 million contract. It is believed he earned an additional $500,000 for winning the award.

"I'm definitely happy about the way this season is coming to an end," Suggs said. "To know that they didn't waste their pick, it's nice."

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, the fifth overall choice in the draft, finished second with 15 votes, followed by Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Barnett with six.

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