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Terrell Suggs' leadership will be missed, but play can be replaced

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' season-ending injury is not the devastating blow it might have been a few years ago.

The loss of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will have more of an emotional impact than a physical one on the Ravens.

It is similar to the scenario in 2012, when inside linebacker Ray Lewis played just six games because of a torn triceps suffered against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl that season, with Lewis rejoining the team for their great postseason run.

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This isn't to say history will repeat itself — after all, Suggs won't be returning this season. It's just comparing two great players who were past their primes, yet still excelled as leaders.

When the Ravens announced Sunday that Suggs, 32, was out for the remainder of the season after tearing his left Achilles tendon, it wasn't like in 2001 when they lost star running back Jamal Lewis and right offensive tackle Leon Searcy to season-ending injuries in training camp.

Those were white-flag-waving injuries where you echo those two words once muttered by boxing legend Roberto Duran, "no mas."

Suggs' injury was lamented Sunday because of what he has meant to the team and franchise, but it wasn't as if quarterback Joe Flacco was done for the year.

The Ravens seem to be in good shape. They still have two quality starters in Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil, a capable replacement in Albert McClellan and a swing candidate in third-year player Arthur Brown, who can play inside or outside linebacker.

There's one more: rookie Za'Darius Smith, who showed promise throughout training camp, but lacked consistency.

"It's hard to replace 55, he's like the heart and soul of this defense and almost this football team," Ravens cornerback Kyle Arrington said Sunday evening.

That's true in a sense, and Suggs' injury would have been a devastating loss to the Ravens about three or four years ago when he was a dominant player. But he is no longer that type of force.

When he is disciplined, Suggs can hold the edge defending the run, and he'll get 10 to 12 sacks a year. But where he will be missed most is in the locker room and possibly in the postseason.

Suggs is what we have come to expect from a Ravens defensive player. He has swagger, talks trash, can intimidate, loves being the villain and will try to break the opposition into many, many little pieces.

His humor can lighten the mood when there is enormous pressure and his experience is invaluable.

In those regards, there is only one Suggs.

But in the past when these types of injuries have occurred, the Ravens have been able to find capable replacements. It's more than just the "next man up" mantra.

It's about defensive pride. The Ravens will rally around and play hard for Suggs, just like they did for Lewis in 2012. Plus, there will be other players who want to prove that the Ravens aren't just a one-man team.

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Dumervil will play harder because he is the consummate professional who has never liked to play in Suggs' shadow. Upshaw will play harder because he is in the last year of his contract. With no Suggs, he gets more opportunities to prove he is an every down player.

Translation: More sacks mean more money.

With Brown and McClellan, they have potential but could never break through the regular rotation of Suggs, Dumervil and Upshaw. That won't be a problem anymore. Smith could be the next Pernell McPhee, who signed a big contract with the Chicago Bears during the offseason. General manager Ozzie Newsome might also pursue some lesser-name free agents to provide depth, but overall the Ravens will be fine.

But maybe this injury sends a message to Suggs.

During the past two seasons, he has used training camp and the early part of the regular season to play his way into game shape.

After seven games last season, Suggs had 19 tackles, and 21/2 sacks but finished the season with 61 tackles and 12 sacks.

The days of the 1950s and 1960s, when players would report overweight but still could get into shape from the rigors of training camp, are over.

Training camps aren't so hard anymore. This isn't to say that Suggs' weight or conditioning problems led to his Achilles injury, but if he is to come back and play he has to stay in shape year-round.

Ravens history provides perfect examples to learn from: Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Lewis extended Hall-of-Fame-caliber playing careers by monitoring their diet and training regimens in their final years.

Will Suggs return?

If he didn't get hurt this year, I thought he might have retired after this season. But Suggs isn't going to go out in this manner. This will drive him and every time he has had a serious injury or a bad season he came back with a vengeance.

He'll be back. He has something to prove. But until he does, so do the Ravens.

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