If we were putting together a list of the NFL's most underrated players this season, I'd put Terrell Suggs right up there.
Keep an eye on the big linebacker Sunday when the Ravens take on the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Because quietly — OK, maybe that's not the word to describe someone who calls himself T-Sizzle — Suggs is putting together another monster season.
Sometimes I think Suggs doesn't get his due because of his clown-prince persona off the field.
He blasts hip-hop music in the locker room. He mugs for the TV cameras on the sidelines. He shows up for media interviews in T-shirts that profanely mock the Steelers or promote whatever whimsical thoughts happen to be running through his head.
(This week he wore a "Ball So Hard University" shirt. It's a long story. Let's just say he calls himself "the dean of students" of this mythical school. And he says rapper Jay-Z is the president. I don't have space to get into the whole thing.)
If you just met Suggs for the first time, you'd think he was crazy. A few years ago, before a Ravens practice, I walked up to him in the locker room and said: "Terrell, you got a minute?"
His back was to me. For a moment, I didn't think he heard me.
Suddenly he leaped out of his chair and dropped into some kind of wild-eyed ninja stance.
Ohhh-kay, I thought, maybe this isn't a good time . . .
Then he burst out laughing and shook my hand. You want to know why I have gray hair? There's one reason.
But all of Suggs' craziness helps keep the Ravens loose, no small thing for a team with its sights set on the serious business of a Super Bowl.
And as the long season grinds on — even with the Ravens off to a strong 6-2 start — Suggs seems determined to see that his teammates laugh just as hard as they work.
"I think, in years past, we got too caught up in trying to hurry up and get somewhere and not enjoying the process," he said. "We're enjoying this."
And no one's enjoying it more than Suggs, the four-time Pro Bowler who's become one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league.
Heading into today's game, he leads the team with six sacks and is now the Ravens' all-time sacks leader with 74.5. In his last 26 games, including the playoffs, he has 22 sacks, fourth-best in the league.
But this isn't just a guy pinning his ears back and rushing the quarterback on every play.
"He's having a great year, playing the run as good as any outside linebacker/defensive end in the league," said Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' defensive coordinator. ". . . There are guys who may have more sacks than him. But those are guys playing on edges in different schemes, and [their coaches] are just telling them, 'Run up the field [and get to the quarterback].'"
Now in his ninth season, Suggs says he relishes the role as one of the leaders on a defense that ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed (279.4 per game) and in points allowed (16.3).
It's a defense that's been compared favorably to the one on the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team, which delights Suggs and his teammates.
"The whole attitude of our defense is that we're enjoying our job right now," he said.
Suggs missed practice Thursday, sending up the usual red flags among observers who wondered if he was injured enough to miss Sunday's game. But Suggs was just resting a sore knee and back at practice Friday. And Pagano said the Ravens were never worried about his status.
"He's got a tremendous attitude, a tremendous work ethic," Pagano said. "He loves these guys in the locker room and they love him, and he'd never let them down. He'd have to have bones showing for him to come out of this game."
At some point Sunday, right before they take the field, a few of the Ravens might address the team about the importance of this game, about the need to start fast and avoid a letdown against the lowly Seahawks.
Ray Lewis might be one of the speakers. Ed Reed might be another. But Suggs won't be one of them. He keeps his team loose off the field and plays his heart out on game day. But he doesn't do fire-and-brimstone pep talks.
Besides, he says, with no. 52 around, there's no need to.
"We got the greatest leader ever to play the game and the greatest player ever to play the game, and it's pretty much on his shoulders," Suggs said. "But me, Ed Reed, Haloti [Ngata], we'll also get the point across to our defense that this is one we can't let go."
That's when Terrell Suggs will get serious. Again.
(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")