Terrell Suggs stepped out of a storm of speculation and into a semicircle of reporters Thursday, addressing the conflicting reports about whether he had decided to play Sunday against the Houston Texans. In his first group interview since spring workouts, Suggs shot down a report that claimed that the plan was for his family to fly to Houston to watch him make his triumphant return. However, he didn't shoot down the possibility that he will play.
"If it didn't come from Coach [John] Harbaugh or myself, it's not a credible source. There's no plan in place -- take it day by day," said Suggs, who tore his right Achilles tendon back in late April. "We'll decide Sunday what's best for the team. Right now, we're just feeling it out. Come Sunday, I may or may not be out there."
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year said that it has been "miserable" watching his team from the sideline over the past several weeks. Without one of the NFL's best pass rushers, the Ravens defense has been abused by opposing offenses, including them allowing more than 200 rushing yards in consecutive weeks for the first time in team history. But the Ravens are 5-1, which has made it more bearable for Suggs.
"It's like being a kid that can't go out and play and you get to see all your friends out, but you're stuck in the house," Suggs said in front of his locker. "It just really wasn't a good feeling. But it was a good feeling to see them win. And I'm glad that after six games, my team is 5-1, so there really isn't no pressure to hurry up and get back. Where as if it was the flip side, I'd have to get back out there and see what I could do. … It took a lot of pressure off me."
Suggs is dead-on, which is why the Ravens can't let him play this weekend, even if he begs and pleads on the entire plane ride to Houston. The defense is in dire straits, but the Ravens have a two-game cushion in the AFC North, a bye week after Sunday's showdown with their fellow AFC powerhouse, and plenty of meaningful games left to play after the bye week, which will give Suggs an extra two weeks to strengthen his Achilles.
There's no question Suggs would give the defense a boost. If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the heart and brains of this defense, Suggs is the cojones (pardon my Spanish). His big talk and his big plays have set the tone for a dominant defense in the past. But even though Sunday's game is huge, it's just not worth the risk.
If Suggs were to suffer even just a minor setback Sunday, it could cost him the rest of the season -- or at least just slow his progress down enough that he wouldn't be able reach his potential 2012 peak before the playoffs start. And if he were to suffer a major injury, one that could jeopardize his 2013 season and possibly his career, well, let's just say that Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would hear about it for a while.
"[A setback is] always a concern," Suggs said. "We're going to make the decision as a group whether I should sit out or suit up."
That's why I believe Harbaugh when he says that they plan to be patient with Suggs and bring him along slowly. I don't doubt that Suggs is pushing himself hard to return -- one aspect of the media reports that he was willing to confirm -- but the team should err on the side of caution and preach patience to their player. I asked defensive coordinator Dean Pees for his take on that Thursday, and he gave an interesting answer.
"One of the things I've always felt is no one knows himself better than a good professional player," Pees said. "I think experienced pros know when I can't go and when I might be hurting the team. It killed Ray to come out of that game the other night. Killed him. I could see it in his eyes when he was walking off the field. I've been with it with Junior Seau, I've been with it with other players. But also, he's been the ultimate pro and knows, 'I can't get the job done the way I am right now, and I need to come off.' I don't think anybody knows their bodies better than those guys and the trainers. So to me, it's kind of whatever they say, then we've got to make a decision."
Suggs has been around the facility throughout the season, sitting in meetings and rehabbing his injury. But now that he is back on the practice field and back as a possible X or O in the team's game plan, the linebacker is much more engaged, according to Pees. He's talking more -- if you can imagine that -- and making his presence felt. It has been building steadily in recent weeks, and when he officially returns, it will be a roar.
"You can hear it in the locker room now. There's already a change in the atmosphere with [Suggs] back," linebacker Albert McClellan said. "He's still himself so we're looking forward to getting our swagger back."
They could get it back Sunday, sure. But it's more likely that this is a little gamesmanship on the Ravens' part, giving the Texans one more player to point a red dot at in the film room. We will know for sure Sunday.
If the Ravens are smart -- and we have seen over the past two decades that they are -- they will save Sizzle's comeback for some time after the bye week. They need him back, but the situation is not that desperate.