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Introspective Terrell Suggs says 'the show must go on' without Ngata, others

For much of the past decade, Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs has reported to work and taken comfort in having Haloti Ngata by his side. Their lockers were right next to each other, they walked out to the practice field together and then they lined up along the same defensive line.

But Tuesday's start to Ravens minicamp brought a reminder of a reality with which Suggs is "trying to cope."

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After nine seasons in Baltimore, Ngata is now on the Detroit Lions, traded in March for two mid-round draft picks. In the Ravens locker room, Suggs is now flanked by veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and second-year offensive tackle James Hurst. Ngata's position with the starting defense is now being filled by Timmy Jernigan.

"Me and Haloti are very close, so it was definitely kind of weird coming back and him not being here," Suggs said after the first of three mandatory workouts this week. "But the show must go on. We wish Haloti tremendous success until they play us. He will always be a Raven in spirit, but I'm just trying to cope with it right now."

Suggs traditionally doesn't participate in voluntary organized team activities so his arrival at the mandatory minicamp often brings his first public comments since the end of the previous season. After a 2 ½-hour workout under the hot sun, the 32-year-old and the longest-tenured member of the Ravens was far more introspective than he's been in the past, starting with his acknowledgment that he's yet to completely get over Ngata's departure.

He also said that he was nowhere near in peak condition, indicating that he's learned to pace himself to make sure he's ready for the full season. He admitted that he feels like the last man standing on the Ravens defense, given the departures over the past couple of years of standouts like Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. And he didn't shy away from the fact that he's entering the twilight of his playing career, which is entering its 13th season.

"When you get in the teens, you kind of just take it year-by-year, how your body felt, especially when you've got a team like this and you do some special things," Suggs said. "We lost in the divisional [round] last year. Now, it's time to get back to the success we're used to. You kind of just take it from there. I'm really looking forward to this year. At the end of this year, we'll talk. But I mean, you just kind of take it year-by-year and see what you can do."

When pressed about whether he's been thinking about retirement more, Suggs said, "I'm definitely on the back nine. You can't say, "Oh man, this is Suggs 2011, even though he had a good year last year.' Like I said, I think things change and situations are different, I see things different. How I'm preparing now is different. It's different now. [Year] 13 is definitely different."

Suggs said that the pressure to get in shape in time for mandatory minicamp used to weigh on him, but he decided that he wasn't going to stress about it this offseason. Instead, he focused on letting his body heal with his sights on making sure he is ready to go by the start of training camp in late July.

A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Suggs had a solid bounce-back season last year, playing in all 16 regular-season games, and finishing with 12 sacks and 61 tackles while teaming with Elvis Dumervil to form the most productive sack duo in team history.

"You've got to respect what he's done — [2011] Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl champion, over 100 sacks," Dumervil said of Suggs. "To me, that's a Hall of Fame-type of career. He's been doing it for almost 13 years, so I'm sure he has some really good insight."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't a fan of denoting any player as "the face" of a team or a unit and he is confident that the team has a host of leaders on the defensive side of the ball. However, he said, "There are a bunch of leaders out there, but Terrell Suggs, obviously, takes a back seat to nobody."

Suggs understood that he'd have to take on a greater leadership role following the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning 2012 season and the retirement of Lewis. He's more than comfortable encouraging or getting on a defensive teammate, breaking the pre-game huddle or taking a rookie under his wing.

Such responsibilities could increase this season with several new faces or young players stepping into bigger roles.

"It's a whole new look, a whole new team. I'm trying to enjoy it, but it's definitely weird kind of having everyone gone," Suggs said. "I'm just going to be myself. I'm going to just be 'Sizz' and hopefully the guys will follow my lead and we're going to do great things. We have tremendous talent. We have a lot of guys. This team is definitely going to be special. It all starts at minicamp."

Suggs, who is signed with the Ravens through the 2018 season, restructured his contract in early March to give the team a little more flexibility under the salary cap. It, however, didn't provide enough room for the Ravens to realistically feel that they could keep Ngata.

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The outspoken linebacker said that he thought Ngata would be a guy that would play his whole career with the Ravens, and called his exit "unfortunate." But as surprising as the deal was to him, he insists that it has not diminished his enthusiasm for the 2015 season, or his belief in what the Ravens can accomplish.

"We have tremendous faith in them," Suggs said of his defensive teammates, including projected starting interior defensive linemen Jernigan and Brandon Williams. "In my eyes, there will never be another Haloti Ngata, but that comes from a biased perspective from me. But are those guys capable of being special players in the NFL? Absolutely."

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