Trio has Suggs' back

J. McClain, Jones and Douglas on standby if Pro Bowl linebacker is too injured to face Steelers

January 15, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

If Terrell Suggs is too injured to play Sunday in the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, it might take three Ravens to replace the Pro Bowl linebacker.

Rookie Jameel McClain, converted tight end Edgar Jones and defensive end Marques Douglas could each get extended snaps in place of Suggs, who did not return after spraining his right shoulder in last week's playoff win at Tennessee.

Suggs did not practice yesterday, and he primarily used his left arm to take off a long-sleeved T-shirt in the locker room at the team's training facility. His playing status remains highly uncertain for Sunday.

The loss of Suggs, who led the team in sacks for the third time in six seasons, is potentially significant, but his teammates expressed confidence yesterday in the backups.

"Edgar and Jameel have done an unbelievable job with me being nicked up a little bit and Terrell coming out of the last game," fellow outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Incredibly smart guys. You've got Edgar playing every special teams [position] and tight end, and he knows the defense. You can't replace guys like that. You can just go down the list and look at guys who have stepped up this year."

Suggs has 10 sacks in 16 regular-season games and two playoff contests, but he sprained his right shoulder after sacking quarterback Kerry Collins for a 6-yard loss late in the second quarter of the Ravens' 13-10 win against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

After the victory, Suggs pledged to play against the Steelers, pointing out that he has not missed a game in his professional career.

Suggs, who was unavailable to comment, is scheduled to speak to the media today. Coach John Harbaugh was cryptic when asked about Suggs' status, saying, "You can ask him. He's going to be right in the locker room. Ask him how he feels."

Douglas predicted that Suggs would play in Pittsburgh.

"I've seen him moving around already," Douglas said. "If he needs a play off, we'll be there, but it's the AFC championship game. I think you'd have to cut his arm off for him not to be out there."

If Suggs can't play, the Ravens have a few options. McClain was an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse, but he has collected 21/2 sacks and became the first player in franchise history to record two safeties in a single season.

McClain, who estimated that he played more than 20 snaps against the Titans, said he is following linebacker Ray Lewis' advice of being prepared for any situation.

"We've got to go through the whole week to see how everything would work, but I'm just going through it one day at a time," said McClain, who had one tackle against the Titans. "It's an experience. It's definitely something that probably nobody would have predicted, but I believed in myself, and I believed I could play this game at the highest level, and it's fortunate that I'm getting the opportunity to show it a little bit."

Jones was an undrafted rookie in 2007, but after spending his rookie campaign as a linebacker, a lack of depth at the tight end position forced Ravens coaches to move Jones to that position.

But Jones continued to receive game plans from the defensive playbooks each week, and he returned to linebacker at the end of last month.

"It was like getting back on a bicycle again," said Jones, who estimated that he played between 15 and 20 snaps on Saturday. "Of course, there were some things I had to re-evaluate and go over to kind of get back into that linebacker groove, but I think coming from an offensive standpoint kind of helped me as far as learning things and seeing how offenses worked."

Douglas presents an intriguing angle as an end. A few times when Douglas entered the game against Tennessee, the defense went to a 4-3 alignment with defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan and ends Trevor Pryce and Douglas and linebackers Lewis, Johnson and Bart Scott.

"We've kind of done it before in the past where we've gone with [four defensive linemen]," Douglas said. "We can go 3-4 or 4-3. We can do a lot of things. We don't just have to do 4-3. That was an effective front against the Titans, so we stuck with it."

Much of the uncertainty will remain until Sunday when the Ravens coaches are expected to wait until game time before making a decision on Suggs' availability. Harbaugh said the beauty of a defense built by defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is the interchangeable parts.

"Our defense is a group effort anyway," Harbaugh said. "If anybody can't go on our defense, it will be packages designed by Rex and [it will] put guys in spots to do what they do well."

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