Ravens considering internal, external options for replacing Terrell Suggs

SAN JOSE, CALIF. — Injured outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was on the team charter from Denver to the Bay Area, where the Ravens will practice this week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.

Suggs, however, will leave his teammates shortly to consult with doctors and have surgery to repair his torn left Achilles tendon, an injury that will end his 2015 season. The Ravens, meanwhile, will be left to reconstruct their pass rush without their all-time leader in sacks.


A day after Suggs was hurt in the middle of the fourth quarter of the Ravens' eventual 19-13 loss to the Broncos, coach John Harbaugh said the organization is considering external options to replace the rush linebacker. However, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens have what it takes in-house to fill the void.

"We do feel like we have the guys here that can do it," Harbaugh said from the team hotel, which will serve as the Ravens' headquarters for the week when they're not practicing at San Jose State.


The first order of business for the Ravens in replacing Suggs is to slide Elvis Dumervil over to the rush linebacker spot, where he'll be a three-down player while also sharing repetitions with rookie fourth-round pick Za'Darius Smith. Since he's been on the Ravens, Dumervil has mostly been used as the strong-side linebacker, playing in the obvious passing downs while Courtney Upshaw is used on the running ones.

Upshaw will remain on the strong-side and should get increased opportunities to rush the quarterback, something that he's been craving. The fourth-year linebacker has gone 28 consecutive regular-season games without registering a full sack.

"Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I've always been that type of guy. But it's not only me. It's a lot of guys in that outside 'backer room who are going to have to step up," Upshaw said following Sunday's game. "[Defensive coordinator Dean Pees] and the coaching staff have been trying to look at things that will put me on the field. Now with Terrell going down, I've just got to step up my game all around. It's not going to be easy to try and replace what Terrell brings to the team, but we've just to step up."

On Sunday, Suggs, Dumervil and Upshaw were the only three outside linebackers who were active. Smith, who was drafted as a potential replacement for Pernell McPhee, was a surprise inactive after showing some promise during the preseason. Harbaugh explained that decision Monday, indicating that it had nothing to do with Smith's work in practice.

Rather, the decision was made because of the Ravens needing another "fast guy" on special teams.

"We're excited about Za'Darius," Harbaugh said. "He didn't dress yesterday but he's practiced really well. He's going to have to continue to improve. Sometimes you get thrown in the fire and guys respond for us. "

Along with needing Smith to play a bigger role, the Ravens will also use Albert McClellan more on the outside. McClellan, one of the team's top special teams performers, has been used the past couple of seasons on the inside. However, he came out of Marshall as an outside linebacker, and that was his natural position.

He took down Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning Sunday, his first sack since 2012 and the second of his career. McClellan should get more opportunities to rush the passer going forward.


The Ravens, who will have an open roster spot when Suggs is placed on season-ending injured reserve, also have the option of promoting undrafted rookie outside linebacker Brennen Beyer from their practice squad. Beyer, who played his college ball at Michigan, had a solid preseason, notching two sacks in the finale against the Atlanta Falcons.

"We still believe that we have pass rushers that can get the job done, but we're still in the process of evaluating our options personnel-wise," Harbaugh said. "There's a chance that we will bring somebody in. We'll look at all those options over the next couple of days."

Pass rushers are in demand league-wide, so the free agent market isn't exactly overflowing with edge rushers. Long-time Indianapolis Colts standout Dwight Freeney is out there and he said in a radio interview in July that he still wants to play after spending the past two seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

However, Freeney is 35 years old, he didn't participate in any training camp and he hasn't had more than five sacks in a season since 2011. Other veteran free agent options include John Abraham and Shaun Phillips. The Ravens could bring in a couple for a tryout over the next couple of days

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"There are guys available out there," Harbaugh said. "You just have to evaluate them and see how they fit with what we try to do here defensively, see which one of those guys might work for us."

Either way, though, the Ravens know that Suggs will be difficult to replace, both from a production and a leadership standpoint. The soon-to-be 33-year-old is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and he has 106 ½ career sacks. He had 12 sacks last season, joining Dumervil and McPhee as arguably the league's top pass-rushing trio.


With an ability to set the edge and snuff out ballcarriers, Suggs is still considered one of the best outside linebackers in the league against the run. As the longest tenured Raven, he also was the Ravens' vocal leader and one of the team's smartest players.

Upshaw noted that Suggs, who didn't have any tackles in three-plus quarters against the Broncos, was calling out some plays that Denver was about to run after picking them up during film study.

"I would say it's big, but the motto here is, 'Next man up,'" said Upshaw who now is the only remaining defensive starter from the Super Bowl XLVII team. "Terrell is our leader, especially in the outside 'backer group. He's been the cornerstone of this defense for a long time. Everyone knows the accolades and the stats, what he [does] for this team. A lot of guys just have to step up and try to replace the things that he did on the field."