Rejuvenated Suggs gains maturity

WESTMINSTER -- "There comes a time in life when you have to be a man. I'm no longer a little boy." Terrell Suggs' personal odyssey from entering the NFL as a rookie not even old enough to legally order a drink has brought him to this realization.

The Baltimore Ravens' fun-loving pass rusher used to revel in his reputation as the class clown of the locker room. He loved fast food, even swiping entire pizzas and begging reporters not to tell middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

The former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year traditionally made it a point to dance after sacks, often imitating moves from straight-to-video movie releases like "You Got Served."

Since entering the NFL at age 20 in 2003, Suggs became a millionaire well-acquainted with the nightlife. He overcame a high-stakes legal imbroglio. And he experienced a freefall from the Pro Bowl to undergo the worst season of his career last year.

Now that he's entering his fourth season, Suggs, 23, definitely hasn't lost his sense of humor, but he has gained a different perspective on football and life along with a dramatically-changed physique.

Plus, the once-proud bachelor is engaged to be married this spring.

"When you get drafted, you have to adapt to the NFL life and, of course, you love it," said Suggs, who turns 24 in October. "That lifestyle can get a little tiring and make you want to settle down and focus on the finer things in life like marriage and family.

"I met a great woman and she makes it worth coming out here everyday in this heat to work. I love the life that I have with her."

When last season's 6-10 nosedive to the cellar of the AFC North was over, Suggs was absolutely disgusted.

The Ravens missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, and Suggs wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl as he registered a career-low eight sacks.

Since then, Suggs has made quite a few changes, most notably his work habits and diet. Once on a first-name basis with drive-through cashiers, Suggs swears he hasn't been to his old haunt, Burger King, in a year.

He packed on 10 pounds of muscle and lost 5-percent body fat during the offseason to get down to 10-percent body fat at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds when the Ravens arrived in Westminster.

"He's quite a specimen," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "For years, he was like the youngest guy in the NFL and now he's reached a level of maturity. The kid is a freak and we're expecting huge things out of him."

Vindicated of felony aggravated assault charges by an Arizona jury last summer, Suggs no longer is distracted by off-field problems.

Instead of spending his time in the courtroom, Suggs was in the weight room back in Arizona, training hard alongside Washington Redskins safety Adam Archuleta and Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.

"I didn't have anything else on my mind, so I added a lot more muscle and slimmed up the body fat," Suggs said. "I don't think anybody was more disappointed about last year than I was and we can't repeat that. I've got to do my part.

"We owe it to our fans to win because they support us. I definitely don't condone losing. It's totally unacceptable for us to underachieve the way we did last year."

Working under trainer Jay Schroeder, Suggs performed unconventional exercises, including extreme lunges and plyometrics. He also did a drill intended to build explosiveness where he caught and bench pressed a 225-pound barbell after it was dropped above his hands and chest.

"As a pass rusher, that just makes sure your hand punch is strong," Suggs said. "It's like throwing a jab."

Although he has registered 31 sacks in 48 career games, Suggs is coming off his worst season as far as harassing quarterbacks.

Regularly utilized as a drop linebacker last year because of injuries, Suggs posted a career-high 86 tackles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

The Ravens plan to use Suggs more as a rush end this season, allowing him to do what he does best as the featured pass rusher in Ryan's aggressive schemes.

"They're going to turn me loose and I love that," said Suggs, who has been studying the late Reggie White's signature club move. "They brought in Trevor Pryce to help me and that's been lovely.

"I'm used to my double-digit sacks, and I'll never have another year like last year. I would love to get 20 sacks and I don't think that's impossible."

Does Suggs, who disappeared at times last season against elite offensive tackles like the Cincinnati Bengals' Levi Jones -- his former teammate at Arizona State -- stack up favorably against prolific pass rushers of the past such as his idol, Lawrence Taylor?

The rarified air of L.T. might be a tad much, but Ryan said Suggs definitely belongs in elite company with Freeney and groups his protégé with former Baltimore standouts Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett.

"Let's give him a few years before we put him in L.T.'s realm, but the sky is the limit for this guy," Ryan said. "He's got so much natural talent."

Although Suggs seems to have a more serious resolve based on increased maturity and responsibility, he hasn't allowed the business of football to interfere with his pure enjoyment of the game.

"My father always told me to never let anything change your character and who you are as a person," Suggs said. "I'm more grown up now, but I'm still the Terrell the world knows. I'm a happy-go-lucky kid that loves to dance around and have a blast playing football." If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the original on RavensInsider.Com
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