Despite legal troubles, Suggs aims for first-rate 2nd season

Raven says court date on Sept. 9 isn't a worry

May 19, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Though an impending legal date is dangling over his head, Terrell Suggs of the Ravens maintains his life can't get much better.

The little bulge around Suggs' midsection is history, thanks to intensive offseason workouts in the Arizona heat with fitness guru Jay Schroeder, St. Louis Rams safety Adam Archuleta and Ravens tight end Todd Heap.

Suggs has lost 10 pounds, which is allowing him to breeze through drills in this week's passing camp like a marathon runner walking a treadmill. A starting spot at outside linebacker is guaranteed, and a Pro Bowl berth could be on the horizon.

All that stands in the way of true bliss for Suggs is a Sept. 9 court date in Arizona, where he faces two counts of felony aggravated assault. Even that, says Suggs, is no sweat.

"If I had something to worry about, then maybe it would affect me, but it doesn't affect me at all," said Suggs, who is accused of assaulting a man with a reinforcement rod and attacking another man in the parking lot of Phoenix Municipal Stadium after a three-on-three basketball tournament in March 2003.

"My life is great. It's a minor thing that happened, and we're going to get that taken care of and totally out of my life. We're going forward. It's just senseless when it comes up again. It's nonsense."

Asked if he thinks the court date, which is three days before the season opener against the Browns in Cleveland, will force him to miss the game or preparation time leading into it, Suggs said, "Not at all. I just can't wait to get it over with. I can't wait for it to come out so everyone can say, `He didn't do nothing,' so I can be viewed the way I want to be viewed. I'm a great guy, a happy-go-lucky guy."

And a guy the Ravens expect to anchor the defense during the next few seasons.

With linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware inching closer toward 30 and having already reached the pinnacle of their respective talents, Suggs, at 21, is the future of that position for the Ravens.

He led the Ravens with a team rookie-record 12 sacks last season, as he worked primarily as a third-down, pass-rushing specialist. Now comes the challenge of being an every-down player every game.

Unlike a year ago this time when he was a stud defensive end coming out of Arizona State, Suggs thinks he can handle it.

"I have a lot more confidence than I did last year," Suggs said. "I know the system a lot better. I'm more comfortable as a linebacker, whereas the first time I came in and got in a linebacker stance, I didn't know what I was doing."

His rather round physique also did not help his cause.

"He came in as such a young man, and had such a long way to go as to understanding what this league is about," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He made huge strides last year, particularly when he had to step up and start for us. What I see is a heightened sense of what he has to do. I understand his offseason workouts have gone well, though they still could be better. He's light years from where he was before. Last year [at] this time, he couldn't even finish practice. That tells you something."

Even with his slow start, Suggs still went on to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, an award that dozens of other defensive rookies covet. Now he seems to want more.

"A lot of guys, after they have that kind of a year, it's like, `Wow, that came pretty easy.' Then they take that kind of approach," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "I know Terrell thus far has had a great offseason, and that is huge for a guy that's got the talent he has, the ability and the accomplishments he had as a rookie. I'm looking for him to take another step and help us more on regular downs. He should be every bit of a force on first and second down as he is on third downs."

NOTES: Former Raven Shannon Sharpe, a likely Hall of Fame tight end, announced his retirement yesterday, drawing reaction from ex-teammates. "I think that he is making a good decision at this point of his career," said Heap, who played a season with Sharpe. "He's done everything you can do as a tight end - three Super Bowls. He said it himself, there is nothing more he can do." ... Ed Hartwell and Bart Scott will attend the ESPN Play Your Way Sports Gear Drive tomorrow at the ESPN Zone. The drive will benefit the Baltimore City Police Athletic League. Anyone donating new sports gear will receive a $10 Zone card. ... Edwin Mulitalo will host a musical instrument drive Saturday at Polytechnic Western from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ... The Ravens signed four undrafted rookies: linebacker Brandon Rager (San Diego State), offensive tackle Brendan Darby (San Diego State), fullback Preston Hartfield (Texas Tech) and running back Kory Chapman (Jacksonville State).

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