Baltimore Ravens

Preston: Veteran Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs wants defense to be dominant again

Terrell Suggs has sweat pouring down his face and the T-shirt that clings to his muscular body is drenched with perspiration. Yet during a 20-second break, his mind flashes back to his first Ravens practice.

As he looks out on the field, his thoughts start to drift to 2003 and a smile comes over his face.


"That first practice, I was frozen like in 'The Twilight Zone,'" said Suggs, who is entering his 15th NFL season. "I remember the guys we had on that team because that defensive unit was so special that [then-Ravens coach] Brian Billick didn't touch it. He made some minor adjustments when there was some miscues here and there.

"But he never fooled with those defenses. That was Ray Lewis' defense and Ray Lewis policed it, and Ed Reed was his top lieutenant. Those were great times. I talk to our young guys about it because it was great to be a part of it. Those defenses were of mythical proportions."


Suggs, 34, wants the Ravens to get back to that level and said they have enough young talent to do it. Lewis is gone, having retired after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, and there is no question as to who is the face of this team.

The role was up for grabs in 2013 when some within the organization thought quarterback Joe Flacco or maybe guard Marshal Yanda, or possibly receiver Steve Smith Sr. might take control, but Suggs has been and remains Lewis' successor.

And at this point, he doesn't plan on going anywhere soon.

"I don't have a time frame," Suggs said about retirement. "Everybody knows that the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint and how you feel at the end of the season isn't how I feel now. So it depends on how I feel at the end of the season.

"But right now I love coming out here. I love practice, I love hitting, I love the game. This is a special fraternity and it's great to be a part of it. Where else could I have this much fun?"

No Raven has had more fun than Suggs since the team moved to Baltimore from Cleveland to start the 1996 season. He is this big, bubbly kid whose sense of humor and constant chatter are parts of his enormous passion for the game.

He never shuts up.

He sometimes chides Ravens assistant coaches. The lackluster offense in training camp has been the recipient of a lot of Suggs one-liners.


No player gets targeted more than kicker Justin Tucker. After Tucker converted on a franchise record 61-yard game-winning field goal against the Detroit Lions in 2013, he received congratulations from nearly every one of his teammates for kicking six total field goals.

As the media crowded around Tucker in the locker room, Suggs just screamed: "Hey, Tucker, you're still just [an expletive] kicker."

"He is one of a kind," Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams said about Suggs, laughing. "He is definitely his own person, his own character. It speaks volumes about this organization because they let us be us and they allow him to be Terrell Suggs. He is a free spirit, a comic-[relief] guy who gets you going and keeps you hyped."

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees had been around players like Suggs before, but never any quite as animated.

"Going into this and knowing [former Ravens defensive coordinators] Chuck Pagano and Greg Mattison, I knew what to expect," Pees said. "It was culture shock. I had been around Junior Seau and Mike Vrabel, and they were quite similar, always talking to [New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady] and trying to get into his head. Terrell is a little different, though.

"But I tell you what — when I talk, he is very good at quieting down and being respectful. It's just in his spirit; a fun guy who likes to yap, but at the same time he is a very smart guy. He likes to give you the impression that he isn't, but Terrell knows a lot about a lot."


His teammates know that, especially the young ones on defense. They flock to him for advice and tips. Suggs keeps a little mental notebook on all of them. He believes he has formed an on-field partnership with Williams the way he did with former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

He believes second-year defensive tackle Michael Pierce was a rare find much like former Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg. Second-year outside linebacker Matthew Judon reminds him of himself, and he likes the potential in rookie outside linebackers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser.

And what about third-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith?

"Z is a man-child out there," Suggs said. "When the light bulb comes on for him, they are going to give him a $100 million contract. He will become a special player in this league."

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If that's the case, maybe he'll be another Suggs. Suggs was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003. He is a six-time Pro Bowl player and the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (114.5), forced fumbles (32) and sack yards (-822).

Suggs led the Ravens in sacks last season with eight, and he spent the entire offseason working out in Baltimore for the first time in his career.


He likes the young players the Ravens have brought in and the additions of veterans such as cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson during the offseason.

"I definitely can't play every play like I used to when I was 26 or 27, so it's good to have young guys that can come in and don't miss a beat," Suggs said. "We're back to our traditional mode, so to speak, of bringing in guys and getting it done on this side of the ball.

"I've told the guys that it is a great feeling to be a part of a defense that is special, and I was once part of that. Now, we're getting back to it again."