Suggs' lone start came in the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Before that 13-10 overtime win, he had already collected an NFL-rookie high dozen sacks. "I'm a work in progress," said Suggs, who will likely be pursuing banged-up Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair during Saturday's AFC wild-card game at M&T Bank Stadium. "Everybody kind of pitches in to mold Terrell. "This is great, not only for me, but for the team to know that they didn't waste their pick and they're actually getting something out of that draft pick."
Working out of the Ravens' 3-4 defensive alignment as a rush end who seldom dropped back into pass coverage, Suggs, 21, had few responsibilities other than to collapse the pocket and chase passers. He performed that task quite adeptly. And it was enough for the 10th overall pick of the draft to edge Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman by a 23-15 margin. "Every rookie in the NFL knows it's hard to come into the league and perform good enough to get an award for it," said Suggs, who forced a team-high six fumbles and four fumble recoveries. "This has been a really great year, and I'm hoping to finish it real strong. I'm kind of overwhelmed with the whole thing."
Suggs dropped in some NFL scouts' estimation when he didn't run the 40-yard dash as quickly as anticipated at private workouts this spring. The Ravens emphasized his rare explosive burst at the snap of the football and deceptive strength for an athlete with less-than imposing dimensions at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds. As former Ravens' West Coast scout Art Perkins noted this spring, the coaching staff and personnel department were more interested in how fast Suggs could cover 10 yards rather than the rarely-traveled distance of 40 yards.
Last year at Arizona State, Suggs set an NCAA single-season mark with 24 sacks and was named a consensus All-American while also claiming the Lombardi Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Award. Suggs got off to a slow start initially in the NFL. He was hindered by a contract holdout that lasted a few days, a mild neck injury and less-than stellar conditioning that curtailed his progress in training camp. Not to mention the normal adjustment any 20-year-old makes to playing football against grown men.
Then, Suggs began to learn the game while being tutored by everyone from All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis to Hall of Fame linebackers coach Mike Singletary, outside linebackers coach Phil Zacharias and defensive line coach Rex Ryan. "Terrell's a rare talent," defensive end Marques Douglas said. "He does some things athletically that can't be coached. Everyone gets to see that on Sundays, but we see it every day at practice. He's something."
After leaving the Arizona State campus following his junior season, Suggs recorded sacks in each of his first four games to tie Santana Dotson's rookie record. Suggs broke Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware's team record for sacks by a rookie with two sacks in a 35-0 win over the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago. Boulware won this same award in 1997 as the Ravens' first-round selection from Florida State.
He hurt his knee against Cleveland and sat out of Sunday's game and his status for Saturday's playoff is undetermined. "It's been fun to watch his maturation," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It really has, particularly the last two weeks. What he had to step up to do with Peter's situation. "He's had to step up his game and he has. It's been fun to watch."
Suggs finished the season tied for seventh in the NFL in sacks. He actually produced more sacks than Tennessee Titans standout end Jevon Kearse, who still holds the league's rookie record with 14 1/2 back in 1999. Suggs said he was surprised to win the award, noting the presence of standout rookie defenders like Newman and Green Bay Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kevin Williams. "I've been all smiles all day," Suggs said. "Practice was a breeze."
Now, Suggs is hoping to continue to evolve into an every-down linebacker that doesn't have to be excluded from pass coverage. "It's just something to look forward to," Suggs said. "It's definitely like, oh, if he only played third downs, imagine what he'll do when he plays every down and he really becomes a linebacker. Y'all just got to stay tuned."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.