With a rush, Ravens' Suggs joins upper echelon of NFL's sack pack

Second-year linebacker has 15 sacks in 19 games

Pro Football

September 30, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When asked about watching film, Terrell Suggs didn't deliver the expected answer, providing a spin he usually reserves for offensive lines.

Instead of following the routine of breaking down opposing tackles, the Ravens' outside linebacker spends his free time analyzing fellow pass rushers like Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice, the New York Jets' John Abraham and Green Bay's Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

So, does he ever dissect tackles, even during a week in which he will face nine-time Pro Bowl lineman Willie Roaf?

"Nah, it's not about them; it's about me," Suggs said. "Whatever they do, I have to react to it and take what they give me."

His natural ability has made him the one of the NFL's best young pass rushers.

Since he entered the league as a first-round draft pick last season, Suggs has registered 15 sacks in 19 games. Only three players - the New York Giants' Michael Strahan (21 1/2 ), Chicago's Adewale Ogunleye (17) and Rice (16) - have harassed quarterbacks more over that time.

Suggs' first Monday night game will also represent one of his tougher tests in Roaf, Kansas City's 6-foot-5, 320-pound left tackle. In 11 seasons, Roaf has faced big-name pass rushers such as Reggie White, Charles Haley, Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman.

Because Roaf is an established blocker, the Chiefs might let him go one-on-one with Suggs and not use a tight end or running back to double team. He has given up just one sack in three games this season.

What Suggs lacks in experience (he turns 22 next month), he makes up with talent. Unlike a lot of pass rushers who rely either on speed or power, Suggs combines both to keep tackles off balance. He has a tremendous burst with his first two steps, but he has surprised coaches and teammates with his strength to push past bigger linemen.

His play in the first month of the season was among the most impressive of any defender in the NFL. In Sunday's win in Cincinnati, he had two sacks and hit quarterback Carson Palmer six times.

"To me, he's the premier pass rusher in the AFC," said Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who works with Suggs on his pass-rushing technique. "He really is unbelievable. The great thing is the kid is only going to get better."

The biggest strides made by Suggs is in his development as an every-down player.

As a rookie last season, he failed miserably to convert from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker. The Ravens used him solely as a pass-rush end, a role he dominated so thoroughly he won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

This offseason, Suggs showed more determination in transforming into a linebacker.

Under the direction of outside linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald, Suggs learned how to attack the run but not get sucked in by misdirection. He also has become adept at dropping back in coverage, which means resisting the urge to rush the quarterback every down.

"He runs the complete package now," coach Brian Billick said. "He is proud of that and is becoming a great professional. Just to think how young this kid is and how well he is playing, it's exciting."

The Ravens envision Suggs becoming a more well-rounded linebacker than Peter Boulware, who made a similar transition seven years ago.

"It's coming along," Suggs said. "It's a lot better than it was last year. You can just tell by watching. I was not a linebacker last year. I was totally out of place. This year, I look like I fit in the position."

Another difference for Suggs is becoming the focal point of the Ravens' pass rush.

With Boulware on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury, Suggs is the first defender the offensive line has to account for in passing situations. Though the play of Adalius Thomas has stopped teams from devoting all their attention on Suggs, his ability to reach the quarterback consistently might force more teams to double team him.

The Ravens have tried to keep offenses guessing, flipping Suggs from right end to left, and vice versa. They also capitalize on his athleticism, having him line up as an end and stunt to the inside.

Suggs said he doesn't have a sack total goal, only to have more than Miami's Jason Taylor and Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, all of whom share the same agent.

"It's always a little competitive thing of which one of us can have the most sacks at the end of the year," Suggs said. "But both of those guys have been to the Pro Bowl and I haven't."

Judging by the way he closes on quarterbacks, it won't be long before he rushes into that club, too.

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