Terrell Suggs is back, ready to sizzle vs. Steelers

Ravens linebacker's stat sheet is improved over last year, but his zaniness remains

December 03, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Among the many faces of Terrell Suggs is his self-described "Darth Sizzle." That's the Terrell Suggs who leans into a microphone with hooded sweatshirt pulled forward on his face and, for a few seconds, mumbles unintelligible lyrics for assembled reporters.

At other times, the eighth-year Ravens linebacker will be alternately loud — for instance, singing the theme from the movie "Titanic" while walking out to practice — or hilariously funny — like the time he dressed up in skin-tight Wranglers and extra large tennis shoes for a '70s-themed Halloween party.

But regardless of his ever-changing face, Suggs is always outrageous. And never more so than when the subject is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who arrive Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium for an AFC North brawl that will probably decide the division race.

Two summers ago at training camp, Suggs wore under his practice jersey a T-shirt that carried the message "You Bet Your Sweet A - - I Hate The Steelers" on the back.

Asked Wednesday if he truly hates the Steelers, Suggs smiled and said, "No comment. You know, I've always wanted to use that [phrase], and I had the opportunity today."

That's because Suggs never no-comments reporters. He's always ready to supply a needle or a jolting video clip. Having fun is Suggs' game and this year he is back in business after a dark, disappointing 2009 season.

In the same interview — Suggs spoke to national and local media for 45 minutes on Wednesday — he created a mini-firestorm when asked about the difference in his play from last year to this year.

"I quit doing cocaine," he deadpanned, sending a roar of laughter through the locker room and a ripple of regret through the organization.

Suggs immediately let everyone know he was joking and grinned sheepishly at Chad Steele when the team's director of media relations shot him a withering scowl.

Politically correct or not, Suggs, 28, is once again the dominant player who earned a $63 million contract before the 2009 season. He leads the team with 7½ sacks — including three in the past four games — along with 43 tackles, one forced fumble and 2 passes defensed.

A year ago, Suggs added 20 pounds to his already huge 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame to help defend against the run. His pass rush suffered and he had a career-low 4½ sacks. He became the subject of considerable scorn for his less-than-svelte physique and his reduced production. But in the offseason, he said he rediscovered his passion for the game.

"I guess I just reasserted [myself]," he said. "I fell back in love with the game. I just started having fun again. … I think I just needed to get away. I think I was able to do that this past offseason and just kind of get back to being Sizzle, get back to being Terrell."

Linebacker Jarret Johnson came to the Ravens in the same 2003 draft and is one of Suggs' closest friends on the team. Johnson said Suggs is not what he appears to be to outsiders.

"People have a perception of Terrell, what he is, and I guarantee you — what you think he is, he's absolutely not," Johnson said. "He's one of the best teammates I've ever been around."

Defensive coordinator Gregg Mattison has steadfastly defended Suggs against his detractors — even last year, when Suggs had his fewest tackles (58) since his rookie season.

Mattison said the Ravens placed an emphasis on run defense on Suggs a year ago, and when "we watched the tape, he was as good a run [defense] player as we had." This year, Mattison said, Suggs decided to cut the extra weight on his own.

"I think he's probably 20 pounds lighter than he was last year, and you can see it," Mattison said. "Going back to that, he was a tremendously unselfish football player last year in the way we asked him to play the run and really buy into that. And that's what he did and now he's doing both of them," rush the passer and stop the run.

It is telling that Suggs, a three-time Pro Bowl player, has enjoyed some of his best games against the Steelers. In 15 career games against Pittsburgh, he has 74 tackles, nine sacks, five passes defensed and one forced fumble. That's a lot of disruption.

But in the 2008 AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, Suggs took his game to a new level. He sprained his right shoulder the week before, wasn't able to practice all week and wore a sling. Yet on game day, playing with one arm, he sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice.

"I was supposed to have surgery," Suggs said of the injury. "But none of y'all know that. I was supposed to have surgery, but I was like, 'I'm not going to have surgery … just go in and play it out.'"

This week, Ray Lewis warned against judging Suggs by his sack count (he has 65 in his career, second in team history behind Peter Boulware).

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