Suggs refines, redefines his game

Pro Football

August 13, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was happy about his first Pro Bowl appearance last season, but far from satisfied.

He wants a couple of more appearances. He would like a few Super Bowl rings even more. But before that happens, Suggs has to become a better outside linebacker, which means becoming more of a complete player.

"I still have a ladder to climb," said Suggs, who is entering his third season. "I made it to the Pro Bowl last year because of the defense we played. I've still got a lot to do."

Simply put, this should be a breakout season for Suggs. Some thought that happened in 2004, when he recorded 72 tackles including 10.5 sacks, which was a strong follow-up to 2003, when he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

You ain't seen nothing yet.

For the first time in three seasons, Suggs looks totally comfortable on the field. He came into training camp overweight and out of shape as a rookie, and was always playing catch-up as far as learning the defense.

Last year, he still struggled with run defense, and the Ravens used him primarily as a rush linebacker. Regardless of the offensive formation, Suggs came hard off the edge and fellow outside linebacker Adalius Thomas dropped into pass coverage.

But so far in training camp, Suggs has been all over the field. He's dropping into pass coverage or relentlessly pursuing ball carriers to the opposite side of the field.

Oh, he can still bring the pressure. That's not going to change. He was born to be a pass rusher. He may have the quickest first step in the league, plus the agility and power to change directions and overpower offensive linemen without breaking stride.

"I prepared for this season by getting into the playbook," Suggs said. "I had to know it a little bit better because it's just me, Adalius and Tommy Polley at that position.

"With the defense we've got, if we get the pieces together, we can do some dangerous things," he said. "We can easily get 13 wins, but it was unfair last year just to have Adalius drop into coverage and bail me out."

In training camp, the Ravens have been playing games with Thomas and Suggs. You don't know who is rushing or dropping into coverage. You don't know which one is the fourth pass rusher, and sometimes which way to turn your pass protection.

Suggs' body has changed. He's more mature now. A lot of the baby fat is gone. He's a thick but well-muscled 260-pound force who can play defensive end or outside linebacker.

He might come from the right or the left.

"I'm back to my old self," Suggs said. "I'm playing a little bit more defensive end, but I'm basically still a linebacker. I've adapted to what I needed to do. I can play both positions. I can play either left or right depending on what the offense gives us."

It was all a part of the learning process. According to Suggs, he learned from two of the game's best in middle linebacker Ray Lewis and former Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who until last season was one of the game's best pass rushers.

Suggs used to watch them play when he was at Arizona State. Not only did he pattern some of their moves, but he also copied their work habits after the Ravens drafted him in the first round in April 2003.

"I've watched all the good ones like Ray, Peter, Simeon Rice, Michael Strahan and Reggie White," Suggs said. "And then I got a chance to play with them. A lot of guys won't admit it because of their ego, but it's fun playing with guys you've watched on TV. I was really excited to play with Peter and Ray that first year."

Suggs has a passion for the game. He loves to dance after sacks. It's not that he's trying to show anyone up, but he's just an overgrown kid at heart. He loves to watch movies - action, adventure and especially cartoons - and plans to get into the industry one day as a writer, producer and actor. He can't go anywhere without PlayStation. Another goal of his is to one day coach at the high school level.

"At the college and NFL level, guys get used to a routine, and it's hard to coach them. There is also a lot of ego," Suggs said. "But in high schools, you can get back to the basics and fundamentals. It's still fun when you win, and you can learn when you lose. You lose on this level, well ... "

Coaching is down the road. ... It's off to Atlanta tonight for the first of four preseason games and a 2005 season that looks promising. And if Suggs has his way, he'll earn another Pro Bowl appearance, but not before earning a Super Bowl ring and becoming one of the best all-around outside linebackers in the game.

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