Suggs making smooth transition

OWINGS MILLS – Terrell Suggs' natural inclination is to attack. Now, the Baltimore Ravens are teaching the rookie outside linebacker how to retreat. As much as Suggs is valued for his aggressiveness and pass rush skills, the first-round pick isn't a pure defensive end anymore. In the Ravens' primary 3-4 defensive alignment, Suggs will have a myriad of coverage responsibilities.

And as the Ravens closed passing camp Friday, the 10th overall selection was still in the process of making the same conversion that incumbent outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Cornell Brown successfully underwent six years ago. Of course, Suggs' main assignment hasn't changed: corralling quarterbacks.

"I'm still learning and you're not going to get it all down in the first few weeks," said Suggs, who set an NCAA record last fall with 24 sacks as an Arizona State junior. "I'm trying to catch on to the veteran aspects of it, the little tricks. When in doubt, go chase somebody, go hit somebody."

Although, these passing camps are non-contact exercises, Suggs hasn't been shy about asserting himself even if he's not entirely sure where he's supposed to go. At the team's initial minicamp, Suggs was assigned to jam tight end Terry Jones at the line and then run with him down the field. Suggs missed his jam attempt. Instead of trying to catch up with a streaking Jones, Suggs redirected his charge and disrupted Kyle Boller's passing lane. After failing to mirror Jones on that exchange, Suggs squared his shoulders and jammed Jones enough to delay him on another route. Boller dumped the football off to running back Chester Taylor.

"Going forward and going backward are two very different things," said defensive end Adalius Thomas, who spent last summer practicing at outside linebacker. "In pass coverage, there are lots of small things to adjust to: motion, opening your hips, driving on the ball, learning your keys, the route combinations, the split rules. "When you're confused, it's hard to go all-out. The key is not getting frustrated."

The coaching staff figures that Suggs, who doesn't turn 21 until October, will prove to be a quick study.

"He'll be rough around the edges, but it's a very good work in progress," outside linebackers coach Phil Zacharias said. "We know he's going to make some mistakes along the way, but he plays hard. He has got enough agility to do what we want in the passing game."

As a freshman, Suggs returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown against Utah State. He intercepted one pass last year against Stanford for 22 yards.

"I almost took that one to the crib," Suggs said. "I plan on getting a lot more at this level if I'm going to be dropping back this much."

Suggs' presence could lend greater flexibility to the Ravens' defensive schemes, allowing Boulware to rush more often than he did last season when he was limited to seven sacks. Like Suggs, Boulware and Brown were college sack masters operating with a hand on the ground. At Florida State, Boulware generated 32 sacks and 43 tackles for losses in 13 starts. At Virginia Tech, Brown had 40 sacks and 37 tackles for losses in four seasons. Suggs set school marks with 44 sacks and 65.5 tackles for losses in 34 starts. Boulware intercepted his first pass in the NFL last year against the Cleveland Browns.

"Your mind has been trained to go after the quarterback," Brown said. "Now, you have to be in coverage against faster guys and it takes discipline."

Suggs is expected to contend for the starting job with Brown. That progression involves Suggs getting into peak condition. He currently weighs 260 pounds and would like to get down to 250 to 245 pounds. Part of the reason Suggs' stock dropped a tad before the draft were clockings of 4.8 to 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash after bulking up to play end in the professional ranks. Zacharias said the team has no concerns about Suggs' size or mobility.

"I'm always in condition, but I want to be a lot lighter," Suggs said. "I don't want to hurry up and do it fast, but I want to get my speed and feet back where they were."

NOTES: Boulware, Ed Hartwell and Jamal Lewis were excused from the close of the voluntary camp. … Billick said the team has installed 80 percent of its basic offensive and defensive concepts, but noted: "I'd like to see us get in better football shape."

Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times.

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