When Terrell Suggs spoke at last year's mandatory minicamp, his voice barely rose above a whisper.
His first in-depth interview since the Super Bowl season was absent of colorful sound bites and shtick, a major departure from Suggs' normal fun-loving and quick-quipping persona.
Whether it was intentional or not, the message was sent and it would be reinforced throughout the 2014 season. Suggs, who had become the undisputed defensive leader with Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed playing elsewhere, was taking his new responsibilities seriously.
"It was a big period of adjustment, and I was more focused on losing [Lewis and Reed] from a brother standpoint, not as a football standpoint," Suggs said Wednesday after the Ravens' second mandatory minicamp workout.
"I had those older guys around to build, and it was a period of adjustment. It was weird, and it [extended] onto the field — not having those guys there. But, the most [important] thing we can learn from last year about those guys not being there is those guys were once-in-a-lifetime guys and all we can be is ourselves. They're not going to come walking through the door to help us win another championship, so all you can be is yourself, and that should be enough."
Asked if he plans on having a little more fun this season, Suggs flashed a wide smile, winked and said, "We'll see, we'll see."
If the first two days of this week's minicamp are any indication, Suggs is well on his way. His voice has reverberated around the practice field at the Under Armour Performance Center. He's traded barbs with a number of the Ravens' offensive players, including backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Steve Smith, and even playfully challenged offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
"Sizz is still himself. You know, he's going to come out and run his mouth, but he's going to give you everything he's got — 110 percent," said wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones. "He's going to be here in practice, he's going to come off the ball hard [and] make a lot of tackles. Everybody leads differently, and he's a guy that will show by example. But when it's time for him to talk, he talks."
Suggs, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who turns 32 in October, is the Ravens' longest-tenured player. In February, he signed a four-year, $28.5 million contract extension that he hopes will allow him to retire with the only NFL organization he's ever known.
As he prepares for his 12th NFL season, Suggs sounded excited and motivated after an uneven 2013 campaign by both his and the Ravens' standards.
"I feel great. To be totally honest with you, it's all in your mindset. If you think you're old, you're going to train old and then you're going to perform old. I'm 31, but I feel like it's Day One for me, so I just need to go out there and have fun," said Suggs, the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (941/2) and forced fumbles (29).
"You're going to always have something to prove when you're playing this game. You never want to hit your cruising altitude; you always want to be ascending with your game. You can always get better. That's what I'm going to continue to try to do. There were some things we identified that we all could have done better last season, and definitely finishing strong is one of them for us as a team and myself."
Limited to eight games in 2012 after tearing his right Achilles tendon during the offseason, Suggs entered training camp last year in the best shape of his career. It showed early, as he had nine sacks and 60 tackles over his first eight games, emerging as a midseason NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
But Suggs struggled in the second half of the season, going six consecutive games without a sack and getting just one quarterback takedown over his final eight games. He said today that injuries were not a factor in the swoon, though he acknowledged his conditioning dipped later in the season.
"You get a little cold and you gain a little weight," Suggs said. "I probably put on a little too much weight down the stretch there. But that was one of my big focuses going into this year. Definitely, if I keep my weight down, I can have a strong finish."
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday he was generally pleased with the conditioning level of the veterans and he singled out Suggs.
"I'll tell you this: the numbers were very good," Harbaugh said. "You can tell he's been working really hard."
Suggs said that he's learned at this point of his career that "everything counts," so he pays more attention to his diet and training regimen than ever before. But this offseason, it wasn't very difficult for him to get motivated.
Only four times in his 11-year career in Baltimore has Suggs not been part of the playoffs and 2013 was particularly difficult because it ended the Ravens' Super Bowl reign and their five-year postseason run.
"It was very weird, it was very agonizing," Suggs said. "For the past six years, we've been in the playoffs, and to watch other teams get the opportunity to compete for a championship, it was very agonizing. It was like you've got to go back and question what you could have done better and how [to] not repeat that going into the next year and definitely don't have that feeling again."
Suggs said that the team definitely had some things to address in the offseason, though he declined to identify what those things are. He did praise the addition of Kubiak and Smith, and the mixture of veterans and youth on the Ravens roster.
He also made it clear he's ready to move beyond the Ravens' disappointing 8-8 season and the constant questions about the team's leadership following the departures of Lewis and Reed.
"That was last year," Suggs said. "All we can do is learn from it now. We don't want to harp on it — just continue to work."
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