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Terrell Suggs arrives at camp as Ravens' last established defensive star

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
No more Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Haloti Ngata. Only Terrell Suggs remains from Ravens' longtime defensive core.

With cameras lining the sidewalk near the players' entrance of the Ravens facility in Owings Mills, stalwart outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was, predictably, the only player to acknowledge the attention given to the mundane act of showing up for work.

Others entered the building with their head down, but Suggs — who became the Ravens' last remaining defensive star this offseason and spent the time away from the team facility enjoying his celebrity — gave a smile and a wave as the final act of his summer.

With his conditioning test passed "convincingly" and carrying a body he said was lighter than earlier this summer, the longest-tenured Raven began a shift to football for a team that like so many others in franchise history has high expectations, even if the defense is shying away from relying on stars like himself.

"We know where we did do great last year, and we know where we finished at, and we fell short," Suggs said. "We don't want to fall short anymore. We want to definitely keep progressing, keep getting better, and it all starts today [and] going out there tomorrow."

Suggs' offseason conditioning, at a stage in his career when even the most decorated pass rushers in NFL history struggle to reach the 12-sack mark he hit in 2014, was one of scant few questions facing the team as the rookies reported to training camp last week. Veterans joined them Wednesday.

He admitted during mandatory minicamp in June that he wasn't near peak condition, instead using his offseason to rest his body after his 12th NFL season ended with a disappointing 35-31 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round.

Suggs has traditionally not attended the optional team activities each summer — nor did Ravens defensive stars like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis or Haloti Ngata. Their conditioning was rarely a concern, and Suggs' hadn't been since 2009, when he had just 4.5 sacks in 13 games after signing a six-year extension.

But in taking advantage of his veteran privilege, Suggs' offseason seemed to entail more of the scene at the front of the building Wednesday than the one that will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday behind it.

On the evening of May 26 — the day of the Ravens' first OTAs, attended by such veterans as Daryl Smith and Steve Smith — Suggs was filmed outside a Beverly Hills steakhouse by TMZ Sports and asked about the New England Patriots' allegedly deflated footballs.

The next set of OTAs began June 1, when Suggs was at the Hollywood premiere of "Entourage."

During the minicamp, he said he was at his "walking-around weight." On Wednesday, he upgraded his physical assessment of himself while again acknowledging he wasn't where he needed to be during minicamp.

"I totally feel a lot different from the last time I was up here," he said. "I can be totally honest with you. I feel great, and we're ready to get out here and work at camp. … We shed some [weight] — a lot. I'm not quite at the weight, but we're at good fighting weight. We're here for camp, and we're going to use this time to shed some more. It's going to be hot out here, so we're going to be looking forward to it."

At 32 — he turns 33 in October — Suggs' situation is emblematic of the entire team's entering training camp, in coach John Harbaugh's mind. There's competition and quality all over the roster.

Their most established defensive star is coming off a 12-sack season, but even Elvis Dumervil, whose 17 sacks led the team a season ago, pushes him at his position.

The coach still expects plenty from his star pass rusher. But how Suggs produces this season once he does reach playing shape will come up against an aging curve that makes the double-digit sack seasons of his past two campaigns improbable to replicate.

Including the Ravens star, nine active players have multiple double-digit sack seasons in their 30s. Only John Abraham (four), James Harrison (three) and Cameron Wake (three) have more than two.

For Suggs to add to his 106.5 career sacks and climb from seventh among active players and 24th all time, he'll have to produce at a level few have at his stage in their career.

He acknowledges how the past few seasons of his career could affect his legacy, though that impact "depends on what we do with them," Suggs said.

Even Suggs producing at a more complementary level could help the Ravens, whose prospects this year on defense don't seem to lean as much on stars as on the depth and promise found across the roster.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees' pass-rush could be more diverse than just Suggs and Dumervil with a bigger role for Courtney Upshaw, and possible contributions from rookie Za'Darius Smith.

Young emerging players like Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Brent Urban and rookie Carl Davis could replicate the contributions of Ngata, who was traded to the Detroit Lions in March.

Suggs might be the last in a line of vaunted Ravens defenders, but as the leader on such a young defense, he is imparting just how the team's reputation came to be as he begins his 13th training camp.

"Our Raven emblem, it means a lot to us on this team, and it's definitely something you have to earn," Suggs said. "Definitely, the expectation is high. We definitely expect good things and like I said, we expect to do better than we did last year."

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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