Low pressure

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs brushes aside any worries about his one-sack total or looming free agency

Ravens Weekend

October 19, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

The world of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs gets a little more pressurized each week, with a new performance inviting another critic to weigh in on whether he is worthy of becoming one of the NFL's big-money free agents.

Suggs seems oblivious, and for good reason: Whatever stress he is facing this season because of his uncertain contract situation can't compare to other stretches he has gone through in his life.

Despite getting his first sack of the 2007 season in Sunday's 22-3 win over the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium, Suggs is confident that the body of work from his first four seasons - especially his 40 sacks - will hold up come contract time.

"I'm just going to let that play out," Suggs, who turned 25 last week, said Wednesday, sitting in the training room of the team's Owings Mills complex. "I think it's an opportunity for the simple fact that when I become a free agent, I think my best years are still ahead of me. I haven't hit my prime yet, and I've accomplished so much."

Given his nomadic childhood, it is remarkable that Suggs has come this far.

How about the years he spent living at his grandmother's house on the South Side of Chicago? Because of their size and athletic ability, Suggs and his two brothers were able to keep the local gang members "at arm's length."

But it wasn't far enough for Donald Suggs Sr., who eventually moved his family back to St. Paul, Minn. When things got rough there as well, Suggs took his three sons and eventually his wife and two daughters to a virtual oasis outside Phoenix.

When Terrell Suggs was 14, he found himself living in a place with a much different climate, both in its weather and its racial makeup, than he had experienced. He knew that Arizona represented more than just a new address.

"I didn't like it at first, but it just gave me a fighting chance to make it out of the inner city," he said. "If we stayed, it would have been more likely for me to be in jail, or worse, or doing something that I would probably hate myself for. I wouldn't have made it out."

As it was, he barely made it out of high school. He went to five in four years - three the year he moved to Arizona - and did not have a college scholarship offer going into his senior year at Hamilton High in Chandler though he was one of the top running backs in the state.

"I told him he had to go to class all the time, he had to get good grades, he had to go to college, he had to make up a lot of deficiencies he had his first three years," said John Wren, who coached Suggs at Hamilton. "He's such a carefree kid. He had to buckle down."

Going to school six days a week, and getting picked up for class by Wren at 6:30 on Saturday mornings, Suggs got mostly A's and B's his senior year. Florida State, Tennessee and Oklahoma came in late with offers, but after deciding on the Seminoles, Suggs changed his mind and committed to nearby Arizona State.

"They didn't even have to recruit him," Suggs Sr. said of the Sun Devils.

Former Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder said he was slightly stunned by the way Suggs embraced becoming a defensive star.

"In nearly 40 years in coaching, I've not known an offensive player that handles the ball that ever thought they were going to play [defense]," Snyder said this week. "When I brought that up, he was quick to respond that's what he wanted to do. We had never seen him play [defense]."

Suggs proved a quick study, starting his first game in Tempe as a freshman. By the time he was done, Suggs was named the country's top defensive lineman, breaking the NCAA record with 24 sacks as a junior in 2002.

The Ravens picked the 20-year-old Suggs 10th in the 2003 draft.

"We spent a lot of time looking at him, and I've never seen a more pure pass rusher than Terrell," Ravens scouting director Eric DeCosta said this week. "He just terrorized the Pac-10. We had the luxury of having Peter Boulware, and we kind of knew what to look for."

As natural a progression as he had made in Tempe, it was even quicker in Baltimore.

Suggs became only the second player in NFL history to get a sack in each of his first four games. He set a Ravens rookie record with 12 sacks and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. Two Pro Bowl invitations, in 2004 and last season, followed.

"A lot of people can't do what I do. They can't line up and just beat the man in front of them one on one," Suggs said.

So what has happened this season?

The departure of Adalius Thomas to the New England Patriots and the fractured wrist suffered by Trevor Pryce in Week 2 have left Suggs and fellow linebacker Bart Scott facing offenses geared toward containing them.

Suggs knows that because of his reputation as one of the league's top pass rushers, his one-sack total seems as if he's had a tough start.

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