A group of reporters was gathered around Ravens center Matt Birk this week, asking difficult questions about the team's pitiful pass protection, when someone across the locker room turned up his stereo as loud as it would go and began to sing.

You didn't even need to turn around to identify the troubadour. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in the Ravens' locker room over the last five years knew immediately that it was Terrell Suggs.

When things get a little too tense during the season, especially after a difficult loss, there are a few things you can always count on at the team's complex in Owings Mills. At some point, John Harbaugh will talk about "execution." Ray Lewis will then frame the up and downs of football, and life, as "part of a journey." And Suggs will try to lighten the mood by doing something that makes everyone laugh. 

Suggs' rendition of Alicia Keys' "No One" was awful, but that was part of the point. He wanted to break the tension in the room, draw a few laughs, and send the message that the world wasn't ending just because the Ravens happened to lose to Jacksonville on Monday night. And when Suggs tried to hit one of the song's high notes, and he butchered it spectacularly, anyone who wanted to remain serious and stone-faced didn't stand a chance.

Even Keys' lyrics seemed oddly appropriate if you apply them to the Ravens current state of mind.

People keep talking. They can say what they like. But all I know is everything's gonna be alright.

Harbaugh has made it a point in recent years to point out how important Suggs' leadership is to the Ravens, which is one of the reasons why the coach didn't seem to mind it when Suggs was the lone Raven to express his displeasure over the fact that Ray Rice only carried the ball eight times in the 12-7 loss to Jacksonville. The outside linebacker has earned the credibility to speak up when he feels something has to be said.

But Suggs' leadership also surfaces in different ways. In many respects, he provides an important counterweight to Lewis, the man generally recognized as both the Ravens' brain and heart. Lewis is so driven and focused, and he gives so many thunderous sermons, he can't help but occasionally come across as too serious and dour. He's the Lion King of the Baltimore locker room, and you never forget it.

Suggs, on the other hand, is the clown prince. He's the team's sense of humor. He's constantly cracking jokes, wearing goofy t-shirts, or intentionally walking behind teammates buck naked as they're being interviewed on camera. The NFL season is a grind, but Suggs is one of the few players who never seems to lose sight of the fact that it's still just a game.

He has also, as most people have realized by now, emerged as one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL, and he now has the stats to back it up. Ravens fans who expressed frustration that Suggs' didn't pile up sack numbers like Dwight Freeney after he signed a big contract in 2008 may want to take a look at his last 16 games. If you include the playoffs -- and why wouldn't you? -- he's made 70 tackles and racked up 16.5 sacks.

Once viewed as an immature and raw player who could only rush the passer, Suggs has managed evolve while at the same time retain his free spirit.

"I think now it's his knowledge of the entire game and not just [being] about pass-rushing," Lewis said this week when asked how Suggs had grown as a player. "From day one, when he first came in, he was this great, great pass-rusher. But now, to hear Sizzle sit out there and call the plays, or we’re sitting in film and he says, ‘Hey Lew, if I see this, see that, I’m going to do this, do that.’ That’s the biggest step – taking your game from just being dominant in one aspect of it and making yourself a complete player. For me, I just sit back and watch him become a complete player the way he is now. It’s actually a great privilege.”

As Suggs was leaving complex later, he snagged a marker and drew a circle on the dry erase board that hangs at the entrance to the Ravens locker room. He scribbled the words "Circle of Trust" above it, then tapped out 53 dots inside the circle, an obvious allusion to Robert DeNiro in the movie "Meet The Parents." He chuckled as he surveyed his squiggle, then headed for the door.

"The guys will get it," he said, then strolled to his car, still humming Alicia Keys.

kvanvalkenburg@baltsun.com
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