Suggs primed for second season

OWINGS MILLS – One year after an NFL initiation that began with hazing that included a pie in the face and ended with him holding the rookie defensive prize, Terrell Suggs is almost all grown up.<br><br>The Baltimore Ravens' starting outside linebacker enters his second season in considerably better condition, having trimmed off the majority of his baby fat in the Arizona heat.<br>

Now, Suggs, 21, is making the transition from situational pass rusher to an every-down linebacker. After collecting a dozen sacks to lead the Ravens and all rookies last season while playing mostly on third downs, the coaching staff is looking for Suggs to expand his game to include pass coverage responsibilities.

Although his evolution in pro football is centered primarily on learning the nuances of dropping back, Suggs is aware of the difference that a year forward can make at his age.

"I feel a lot more mature now," said Suggs, the 10th overall selection of last year's draft who established the NCAA mark for sacks in a single season with 24 as a junior Arizona State defensive end. "I feel like more of a part of the team now. Last year, I was a big target for the veterans because I was loud and running my mouth.

"Now, I know if you get in your playbook and show you really want to be here the guys will respect you. Now, they can leave me alone. I'm one of them now."

Suggs said he's unconcerned about his impending legal date in Arizona for two counts of felony aggravated assault. He's accused of assaulting a man with a metal rod and attacking another man in the parking lot of Phoenix Municipal Stadium following a three-on-three basketball game in a March 2003 incident.

"I'm very confident about my case," said Suggs, who has a Sept. 9 court date, three days before the Ravens' season-opener against the Cleveland Browns. "My side is going to come out and I'm going to win. It wouldn't even be news if it wasn't me. 

"I'm loving life. I'm not worried about court. I want everyone to know that I'm a great guy. I'm not a thug, or nothing like that. People can trust my word."

The Ravens have witnessed the results of Suggs' new workout regimen.

During a recent minicamp, he darted around the field with ease with no signs of the fatigue he demonstrated last summer.

On one play, Suggs rushed toward quarterback Kyle Boller. After Boller dumped the football off to running back Chester Taylor, Suggs reversed direction and hustled 25 yards from the pocket to tag Taylor at the sideline.

"He's in great shape, and that's a huge thing," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "There were times last year when you wanted him to go all out, but he was out of shape. I'm very impressed, very pleased. He looks very good.

"With the work ethic and what he's showing, maybe he'll double those 12 sacks. Who knows?"

En route to winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last year, Suggs made a habit of gorging on junk food. 

Suggs would sneak pizza boxes away from the trailer where Ravens coach Brian Billick holds his weekly press conferences. He was careful to evade the detection of All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, the man who smacked him in the face with a whipped-cream pie when he arrived at training camp after a brief contract holdout.

Suggs has lost over 10 pounds, creeping closer to 255 pounds. He has been working out in the company of Ravens tight end Todd Heap and St. Louis Rams safety Adam Archuleta, fellow Arizona State football alums.

"I've lost a few pounds and I feel better," Suggs said. "I'm eating better and taking better care of myself. I take more pride in my workouts. I've had a better off-season. I'm stress-free."

The operative plan for Suggs is to increase his exposure rapidly to pass coverage by letting him sink or swim.

Suggs' top assets are his quickness and instincts. He did intercept one deflected pass last season, but looked uncomfortable at times when asked to do more than harass quarterbacks.

"He came a long way," Nolan said. "He went through a learning process. With all he accomplished, that should form a confidence point going into the season."

Suggs' trademark upfield burst served him well last year. He also learned how to employ a spin move and other techniques through the mentoring of defensive line coach Rex Ryan and former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary.

"I'm devoting myself now to learning the linebacker position and increasing the sacks," said Suggs, who is now coached by outside linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald.

However, veteran offensive tackle Orlando Brown warns that blockers will be more aware of Suggs now and will take extensive measures to contain him.

"He's a good player, but this year is going to be a test for him," Brown said. "Once they get you on tape, the second year is always harder. He might not know that, but they're going to try him a little bit. I know he's up for the challenge."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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