Suggs primed to become Ravens' defensive leader

September 12, 2011|Mike Preston

On Sunday, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs surpassed Peter Boulware as the Ravens all-time sack leader. The passing of another torch to Suggs may not be too far behind.

With inside linebacker Ray Lewis in his 16th season, it's only a matter of time before the Ravens find another defensive leader. Suggs holds Lewis in high regard and there is no desire to force him out soon, but Suggs is the heir apparent.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has pointed to Suggs as Lewis' successor, and gave him another endorsement after Suggs collected three sacks to bring his career total to 71.5 in the Ravens' 35-7 beat down of Pittsburgh.

"You're talking about some great sack artists that have been here," said Harbaugh. "This has been a high pressure type of deal. Terrell Suggs is a premiere player. He's one of the best players in the National Football League. He's one of the premier defensive players that everybody game plans around. He gets blocked every different kind of way a guy can get blocked, from one game to the next, when you watch it. He still finds a way to make plays."

"Plus, he's one of the best leaders I've been around," said Harbaugh. "This guy is one of the hardest working guys I've ever been around. He's part of the heart and soul of our team and our defense."

When a coach starts using those kinds of words to describe a player, he has become more than just a player, but a part of the organization's inner fiber. Jonathan Ogden was like that, and so is Lewis.

Suggs is nearing that status too, but he is willing to wait his time.

He adores Lewis, the best middle linebacker to ever play the game. When Suggs came into the league nine years ago, it was Lewis who taught him about life in the NFL just like he does all the young linebackers.

Suggs admits he has spoken to Lewis about being a leader, and it was Lewis who urged him to join him and safety Ed Reed as leaders on defense. Reed, though, is 33 and has contemplated retirement.

Suggs is only 28 and just entering his prime.

"I guess whenever the torch is passed, it would come to me," said Suggs. "I could take it. But the way Ray is going, the torch might get burned out before it's passed on to me, I don't know. But I do know that during the past eight years. I've been sitting by him and I've picked up a lot of good things. During the past couple of years, my role has evolved."

Suggs was a mess when he first came to Baltimore. Despite being 20 and liking fast cars and ignoring some team rules, Suggs still won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

His approach to the game is much different than that of Lewis. Lewis is more serious and technical. He gives southern baptist style pre-game speeches and spends hours looking at game film.

Suggs is carefree and nutty when it comes to football. He isn't going to deliver the big pre-game speech, but he constantly talks during practice to his teammates, coaches and even reporters. Lewis has a pre-game dance called "The Squirrel." Suggs has a dance after every sack.

Both like to draw attention to themselves. Lewis does it with style while Suggs can be loud. But both are just having fun.

For Suggs, he's just a big kid still playing a kids' game.

"Ray is more of a technician in his approach to the game and I have more of an attack approach," said Suggs. "Ray has those talks for the entire team. I just talk to the D-line because they are barbarians, cave men, like us."

"I always try to keep things fresh," said Suggs. "The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, so you don't want to have that monotonous attitude. So I try to change up. I'll switch jerseys, or come out one day wearing pink spikes at practice. I know sometimes I get on player's nerves, somebody like JJ [Jarret Johnson], but he knows how I am. When it's time to get serious and focus on detail like last week, I know when to turn it off. That's part of being a good leader."

The big change came for Suggs in 2009 when he collected only 4.5 sacks. He came into training camp overweight and struggled with injuries. Soon after the season needed, Suggs apologized and vowed that it would never happen again.

It hasn't.

Last season, Suggs earned a fourth Pro Bowl trip. Few question his workout regiment and he made another strong statement with three sacks against Pittsburgh Sunday. When Suggs first came to Baltimore, he was a defensive end out of Arizona making the transition to outside linebacker.

The transformation is complete. Suggs can outwork most offensive tackles and has added more moves to his repertoire. He is fast enough to drop in coverage, and big and ferocious enough to stop the run,.

If he earns another Pro Bowl trip, it would be the first back to back Pro Bowl appearances in his career and further cement his spot as the new torch bearer.

"It's weird with this new CBA, Ray could play for 20 years," said Suggs. "He's still playing at a high level, but if the opportunity comes, I would be proud to accept it."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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