Ravens: Suggs still aiming to return this season

OWINGS MILLS - Terrell Suggs remains convinced that he'll run out of a tunnel, line up in a football stance and chase down quarterbacks sometime this season.

However, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year retreated a bit from his initially optimistic stance that he would return to play by November from a partially torn Achilles tendon.

"We're just going to see where we land," Suggs said Thursday following a mandatory minicamp at the Ravens' training complex. "Maybe we were shooting too far. We'll see.

"When they did that timetable, you kind of look at the months and I was like, 'Oh, I can be back by then.' I'm not a doctor, so that's just a guess."

Suggs had previously told the Times he was fairly certain he would be back by late November, but that was prior to undergoing surgery to repair the damage.

The five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher remained steadfast that he didn't get hurt playing basketball and insisted the injury actually occurred during a conditioning drill in late April.

Suggs had his Achilles operated on May 8 by noted Charlotte, N.C., orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson, an orthopedic specialist in foot and ankle injuries.

Now, his right foot is encased in a large black walking boot that goes up to his knee.

Suggs, 29, is eager to begin his rehabilitation exercises, and he expressed confidencet that he will play this season.

"Like I said before when I first got injured, I will be in a Baltimore Ravens uniform in 2012," Suggs said. "The only question is when."

Under most best-case scenarios, November would be pushing it for Suggs to get back on the field.

A more realistic approach may be getting Suggs to contribute as a situational pass rusher toward the end of the season.

For now, Suggs has got a lot of work to do to strengthen the tendon and get back to simply being able to jog and then run before he'll be doing any wrestling with massive offensive tackles.

"It's tough, I've never sat out before," Suggs said. "You've got to know your body. Right now, rehab is my football skill. Until I master it, I won't be out there again. So, I'm definitely going to try to become an All-Pro at that ASAP."

One reason Suggs remains hopeful that he'll play this season is because of the type of new less invasive procedure that Anderson performed.

It includes a smaller incision.

"The new procedure is really neat and has a known short recovery time," Suggs said. "So, we've got to be optimistic until the season is over or until I run out of that tunnel."

Suggs isn't just adamant that he'll play this season.

He's equally firm in sticking with his version of events on how he got hurt.

Suggs has repeatedly denied eyewitness accounts that he suffered the injury at an Arizona basketball gymnasium.

Suggs' account has the injury occurring while practicing the Ravens' timed conditioning test.

"Not when I got hurt," said Suggs, who didn't deny playing basketball. "We're talking about two entirely different incidents. I didn't get hurt doing that. That's not what happened. It happened running my conditioning test. It was upsetting at first, but then I got over it. I was like, 'Hey. man, they weren't there.

"This guy was like, 'That looked like an Achilles.' I was like, 'That's why you decided to be a gym director and not a doctor.' If that had been what happened, I would have been like, '[Expletive] that, this is what happened.' But it's clearly not."

Suggs is known for his candid, blunt and humorous personality.

And he doesn't have a history of fabrications.

"It's cool," Suggs said. "You just kind of got to laugh some things off just for the fact that everybody got their own truths, but we all know what happened. You guys know I don't shy away from anything. That's clearly not what happened. I wanted to fight back and get into the whole 'he said, she said,' but then I would be giving them exactly what they want.

"I don't answer to them. First things first, I answer to this organization. Secondly, I answer to my teammates and my coaches. Thirdly, I answer to ya'll (reporters) and my fans. Those of you who know me know when I say what happened, that's exactly what happened."

Under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens have the right to take away or reduce Suggs' $4.9 million base salary because any injury away from team headquarters during the offseason is technically considere da non-football injury.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear last week, though, that the team has no intentions of doing so regardless of how Suggs got injured.

During a news conference last week to announce a 10-year partnership with Under Armour, Bisciotti discussed the Suggs situation.

"I would be more upset if he hurt himself sleeping on his couch all offseason, you know," Bisciotti said. "To me, if our players are engaged in activities that get them in shape then I'm proud of them for doing it. I don't know if I would be working out in April the way these guys do what they do. I'm proud of Terrell.

"He got criticized for being out of shape a couple of years ago and he said it would never happen again. He made the Pro Bowl last year and then he made Defensive Player of the Year this Year. I want these guys striving. It gets pretty boring in the weight room. He wasn't kite boarding. I'd like to see that one day. If he's playing basketball, that's great."

That didn't come as a surprise to Suggs, a former first-round draft pick from Arizona State.

"I never expected them to," Suggs said. "After 10 years, you build a relationship with the people around here. You have their back, and I come through and I give my all for them. Just like when I won my MVP award, they've always been behind me no matter what was going on or what was happening in my life.

"We've got an understanding. I consider this organization my family. I never expected them to do that, and I know they didn't expect to."

Suggs recorded a career-high 14 sacks last season and forced seven fumbles.

The NFL's third-ranked defense from last season will attempt to replace Suggs with outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger, but maintaining his high standard is a lofty task.

"This defense has tons of stars, and I ain't going to name nobody because I don't want to leave anybody out," Suggs said. "This defense definitely can get it done and hold the legs until I get back just like we had to do last year when we lost our general [Ray Lewis] for four games. You got to go get it done."

In eight of his nine NFL seasons, Suggs has played in every game.

The lone exception was missing three games with a sprained knee three years ago incurred on a chop block by former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.

It's sinking in now for Suggs just how much he'll miss being on the field with his teammates while watching them practice this week.

Normally, a minicamp would be a mundane activity for Suggs. Now, he would relish the chance to participate.

"This is a very unfamiliar feeling for me," Suggs said. "I used to dread this. 'Oh my God, I have minicamp. You have to go back and go in the sun.'

"Now, I've never appreciated it so much because I've never had to sit and watch my brothers go to battle without me. So, it's definitely frustrating. It's going to be a learning experience for me."

Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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